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June 22, 2021

Five workers’ comp issues in health care

Ideas for mitigating the risks

Chris James

Preventing work-related injuries is difficult in any industry, but it can be especially challenging in the health care arena. Health care workers are caregivers to people in hospitals, senior living settings and doctor’s or dentist offices. Health care workers face a unique set of circumstances that make them more susceptible to injury including:

  1. Long hours and shift work
    Many health care settings are operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week and require overnight shifts. Some employers break up the 40-hour work into four 10-hour shifts, followed by long weekends with three days off. Employees working non-standard shifts need to be sure they are well rested and must take the appropriate breaks in order to prevent injury while working. Workers’ comp claims are more prevalent among employees who work non-standard shifts.

  2. Lifting hazards
    Health care workers often face more strenuous job functions than others and can be responsible for lifting heavier objects and working in a physical environment. Lifting or assisting a person out of bed or transferring to a wheelchair creates an increased risk of injury. Forty percent of all senior living residents will experience a fall and need assistance getting up. The use of specially-designed equipment for the health care industry is imperative in order to avoid a work-related injury.

  3. Return to work after an injury
    Returning an injured employee to work after an injury is a very important part of the employee recovery. The health care industry often struggles to find enough light-duty or transitional work to accommodate injured workers. This is true for both large and small employees within the industry. A good return-to-work program is very important. Always be on the lookout for light-duty jobs. Keep a running list of light-duty jobs. Some workers’ comp carriers will allow the employee to volunteer at a charity if the employer cannot accommodate the employee’s restrictions. Be sure that the employee is working within his or her restrictions.

  4. Safety Culture
    As a Risk Management professional, I see on a daily basis, employers that have the best intentions, but struggle with their own safety culture. This may be due to the nature of their business, but at times, safety takes a back seat to more pressing issues and production. Small doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals all face the same issues as their larger counterparts, but they lack the staff to have a full-time safety director. As a result, safety is often added to someone’s existing job description and is not a part of their primary job functions. The importance of safety must come from the top management and filter down to the frontline workers. Once in place, it is important to keep safety front and center in the daily practice of the business. Returning a worker home safely at the end of every shift assured that the employee feels cared about and is much more likely to be attracted and retained by his or her employer.

  5. Aging workforce
    The average age of the worker within the health care industry is gradually increasing. As a person ages, they often before more prone to injury due to the nature of what they do day in and day out. It is important the employer provides incentives for the employee to live a healthy life style with wellness programs and ways to remain fit and ready for work in these physically demanding jobs. It is equally as important to continually train all workers, regardless of tenure, on proper safety procedures on a regular basis in an effort to prevent injuries.

Caring for sick and elderly people is physically demanding and requires long hours of work. The health care industry often struggles to find ways to bring people back to work following an injury. By raising awareness and recognizing the issues and challenges faced by these workers, the employer can design Risk Management solutions to reduce and prevent workplace injury.

To learn more, please contact your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative.