The dirty little musculoskeletal secret lurking in healthcare

Quick. Name a workplace ranked among the most hazardous in terms of musculoskeletal injury. What’s your guess? Construction? Not a bad choice. Manufacturing? That industry certainly has potential hazards. However, you probably would not consider one workplace even if you had 100 guesses. What is it? Hospitals/medical settings. Didn’t see that coming did you? After all, these places are we go for help.

Don't tell about MSD

For all the health benefits offered by hospitals, the high occurrence of musculoskeletal injury among healthcare workers is cause for concern.

Even with the focus of caring and curing sick and injured people, hospitals (and medical facilities in general) rank among the most hazardous workplaces. According a 2013 OSHA report (“Facts About Hospital Worker Safety”), workers in medical settings experience 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees, nearly two times the rate for private industry in general. Put another way, workers in hospitals account for 157.5 days (cases per 10,000 full-time employees) away from work resulting from injury and illness. This compares to 105.2 days for all other industry. Why is this?

Part of the answer is the unique service healthcare provides. People suffering from illness and injury are frequently unable to help themselves, requiring hospital workers to assist in tasks that expose potential hazards. These hazards, such as lifting, repositioning and transferring patients create an increased exposure to musculoskeletal injury. This potential amplifies if the patient resists efforts of help or becomes violent.

Consequently, it is no wonder that hospital workers lead in the number of days away due to injury/illness. Of those days, musculoskeletal disorders account for 46.4%. Furthermore, 32.7% of those days result from patient handling (lifting, repositioning, transfer).

Musculoskeletal injuries come at an increasing cost

There is no doubt about the financial cost of musculoskeletal injury. The injured worker suffers most directly, having experienced the injury, loss of income and medical bills. In some cases, the injury may cause permanent damage, forcing the worker to find other employment or file for disability. These issues that begin with a single injured hospital worker grow exponentially when applied across the entire healthcare industry.

Medical facilities face a growing problem with every new musculoskeletal injury. The average indemnity costs for worker’s compensation due to musculoskeletal injury are between $10,000 (strain/sprain) and $12,000 (patient handling) according to information from Aon Risk Solutions. However, the total cost (indemnity and medical costs) for lost time claims grows to nearly $25,000 per claim. This does not include intangibles such as the cost of worker turnover. Studies indicate worker replacement costs as high as $103,000 and causes another unintended consequence: increased injuries. A group of researchers led by J.A. Taylor discovered when a nurse leaves their position due to injury and a new/replacement is hired, the incidence of musculoskeletal injury among nurses increases by 68%, mainly due to lack of experience and confidence issues.

The potential for a troubling future

The healthcare industry is aging, as is the majority of industries in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the current median age of hospital workers increased to 43.6 years in 2011, compared to 42.1 across the entire U.S. workforce. This information poses two problems:

  • Older workers are more susceptible to musculoskeletal injury
  • An aging population will create greater demand for skilled medical workers from a smaller population of able workers

With the possibility of demand outpacing the ability to provide service, quality may suffer and musculoskeletal injury could skyrocket. The healthcare industry must deliver ergonomic solutions for its workers to ensure care for patients continues to meet public expectations.

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