Importance of Protecting Healthcare Workers

Today’s healthcare leaders must have vision, integrity and heart to effectively support society’s most essential workers. The Boise State University online Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Healthcare Leadership can provide clinicians and other healthcare professionals the skills needed to build core leadership strategies and analyze how current issues impact the industry.

The World Health Organization once defined healthcare workers as “all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health.” This includes doctors and nurses who work directly with ailing individuals and the technicians who work with them indirectly. The healthcare industry is the largest source of jobs in the country. General and surgical hospitals report the highest levels of employment for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations. Physician’s offices and nursing care facilities come in second and third, respectively.

The healthcare industry is also among the most dangerous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that “more workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other.” In 2017 that sector reported 582,800 injury and illness cases — 153,900 more than the manufacturing sector.

The spread of COVID-19 exposed just how vulnerable healthcare workers are to infectious diseases. This accelerated the discussion of how to protect them, especially when demand for doctors and nurses is at an all-time high. In February, for example, one COVID-19 patient at the UC Davis Medical Center in California led to the self-quarantine of over 100 nurses and healthcare workers in the midst of the pandemic.

As dominant as COVID-19 has been, it represents only a part of what healthcare workers face daily. Other dangers they regularly experience include:

Exposure to chemicals and drugs: Nearly eight million healthcare workers in the U.S. are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals and drugs. While these chemicals treat patients, disinfect medical instruments and workspaces, and preserve samples, they can also cause acute and chronic effects like skin rashes, possible cancers and infertility. One of the best ways to reduce these hazards is through a safety and health management system. This proactive, collaborative process finds and fixes dangers in the workplace, protects workers and saves money.

Injuries: Musculoskeletal disorders make up a large portion of injuries in the healthcare industry. Nursing assistants had the second highest rate of MSDs in 2017, reporting an incidence of 166.3 per 10,000 workers. This is over five times the average for all industries. The repetitive nature of manual patient handling paired with long hours on foot lend to high MSDs. Implementing a comprehensive safe, patient handling program can reduce the number of injuries and workers and improve patient safety and care.

Stress and fatigue: Healthcare, by its nature, is stressful. Having to make life-and-death decisions every day can be emotionally draining. Burnout, defined by emotional exhaustion, lack of personal fulfillment and the inability to significantly connect with patients, affects healthcare professionals at an alarming rate, which increases risk of medical errors and the odds of workers leaving the profession. In addition to navigating the healthcare industry, leaders must view their employees as people and invest in their well-being by creating a culture that workers embrace.

Workplace violence: In healthcare it’s four times more common than in private industry. Healthcare workers, especially those in hospitals, directly encounter people of all backgrounds, including patients with a history of mental health issues. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration presents strategies and tools to guide leaders in establishing an efficient workplace violence prevention program.

Healthcare workers are susceptible to the same ailments and injuries that they treat, and they are even more vulnerable to danger and violence on a day-to-day basis. COVID-19 opened eyes to not only the importance of keeping healthcare workers safe but also the consequences of having insufficient protective gear.

Healthcare leaders must continuously examine their facilities and implement protocols that prioritize practitioner safety. At the end of the day, workplace safety in the healthcare industry is paramount to the overall health of society.

Learn more about Boise State University’s online MBA with an Emphasis in Healthcare Leadership program


US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: The Health of the Healthcare Workers

ABC News: The Battle to Protect Health Care Workers on the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Healthcare

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Worker Safety in Hospitals

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hazardous Drug Exposures in Healthcare

The Nation’s Health: Concerns Grow About Burnout, Stress in Health Care Workers: New Demands Adding to Burden

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