Union, consumer group push for healthcare worker protections

According to the new survey, nurses, aides and other workers suffer more bone and muscle injuries than employees in any other industry. Back injuries among healthcare workers alone account for a $7 billion cost to employers, the report found.

“The government has a legal duty to provide a safe workplace for every employee in the country, but it isn’t fulfilling its duty for healthcare workers,” said Keith Wrightson, a worker safety advocate with Public Citizen.

Healthcare workers suffered more than 650,000 workplace injuries and illnesses in 2010, the report claims. That’s more than 152,000 above the next most injured industry, which is manufacturing.

Additionally, 45 percent of all workplace violence resulting in lost work days in the U.S. happens in the healthcare field, and the rate of injury from attacks is seven times higher in the healthcare sector than in any other industry. However, there are no specific rules protecting workers from being attacked on the job.

Those kinds of statistics should demand new regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said the head of the country’s largest healthcare union.

“We must do everything possible to protect those that care for us,” Toni Lewis, the chairwoman of SEIU Healthcare, said on Wednesday.

OSHA does not inspect healthcare facilities as often as it should, the advocates said, and Congress has actively tried to prevent the workplace regulator from being more proactive by restricting its funding and halting new rules.

Public Citizen is calling for new rules to protect against injuries associated with heavy lifting and requirements that all employers have a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence and threats.

“If these recommendations are implemented, they will result in safer workplaces, not just for nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers, but for all the patients we serve,” said Lewis.