Day in and day out, health care workers confront challenges that to many of us remain unimaginable. Whether a doctor, nurse, technician, dietician or maintenance employee, these workers may face a variety of hazards ranging from serious back injury and exposure to hazardous materials to disease or even violence.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic many of these frontline health care workers sustained exposure to this virus that proved fatal to more than 1 million Americans — many of them hospital patients.
Viruses, chemicals and violence
Any worker in a health care facility may face the following workplace hazards:
- Sharps injuries: A penetrating stab wound from a sharp object such as a scalpel or needle may lead to exposure to bodily fluids and blood.
- Viruses and bloodborne pathogens: Health care workers must continue to be vigilant to exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Respiratory droplets, saliva and blood may contain disease-causing pathogens, potentially leading to serious illnesses such as influenza, tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis.
- Chemical and drug exposure: Damage to the nervous system and internal organs are possible from exposure to hospital chemicals such as ammonia, pesticides and mercury. Hazardous drugs include those needed for cancer therapy, antiviral drugs, bioengineered drugs and hormone agents.
- Musculoskeletal injuries: Back, shoulder, neck and knee injuries may result from the constant lifting of patients, medical supplies and equipment.
- Stress: Demanding work may cause physical and psychological pressures. Stressful working conditions may include exposure to disease, unexpected double shifts and verbal abuse from a patient’s family. This is not good for anyone’s mental health.
- Violence: Hospital workers may be assaulted by patients, disruptive family members and even co-workers, leading to physical injury. According to the American Hospital Association, an estimated 44% of nurses experienced physical violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are just some of the job hazards faced by health care workers who know they must be prepared, alert and take necessary precautions.
Training, avoiding and coping
Some of these job hazards are unavoidable. As a result, more and more health care workers receive additional training on how to avoid and cope with these hazards that may lead to serious injury and even end their careers.