Home healthcare workers help ill, elderly, or disabled individuals who live in their own homes rather than a healthcare facility. Those in the industry encompass a variety of occupations, such as nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, just to name a few. Some hazards that home healthcare workers encounter are unique to the home setting, with unexpected and unpredictable hazards. Home healthcare workers are frequently exposed to a variety of potentially serious or even life-threatening hazards. It is important to raise awareness and increase understanding of the safety and health risks involved in home healthcare and implement prevention strategies to reduce the number of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities that occur much too often among workers in this industry.
Here are the top risks facing home healthcare workers.
Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens
These kinds of sharps injuries are a serious hazard in any medical care situation and are caused by different types of sharps, such as scalpels and broken glass containers. Contaminated needles and sharps could easily inject healthcare workers with blood containing pathogens like hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Each of these are potentially lethal. No immunization is available to prevent HCV or HIV. Preventative measures are key to reducing potential exposures to bloodborne pathogens in home healthcare settings. Activities associated with needlestick injuries include:
- Handling needles that must be taken apart or manipulated after use
- Disposing of needles attached to tubing
- Manipulating the needle in the patient
- Recapping needle
- Transferring body fluid between containers using needles or glass equipment
- Failing to dispose of used needles in puncture-resistant sharps containers
- Lack of proper workstations for procedures using sharps
- Rapid pace and productivity pressures
- Bumping into a needle, sharps, or a worker
- Inadequate staffing and poor leadership
Home healthcare workers are responsible for the use and disposal of this equipment. However, there are times when a patient or family member takes matters into their own hands and may not appropriately dispose of sharps, thus putting the worker at risk. It is possible for the worker to come across contaminated sharps on any surface in the home or in wastebaskets.
Those who lift and move patients are at very high risk for back injury and other musculoskeletal disorders. These disorders involve an injury of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, joints, cartilage, bones, or blood vessels in the extremities or back brought on by work tasks such as lifting, pushing, and pulling. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, numbness, and tingling. Many healthcare workers do the same tasks as workers in traditional healthcare settings, but the home setting conditions are often not suitable for the work. For instance, many workers lift and move patients without assistance. Home healthcare workers can easily injure themselves while transferring patients into and out of bed or when assisting patients in walking or standing. Healthcare workers can develop musculoskeletal disorders from a variety of common work activities such as:
- Forceful exertions
- Awkward postures when lifting
- Repeated activities without adequate recovery time
Many of the common patient-handling tasks involve motions that challenge a home healthcare worker’s body including twisting, bending, stretching, reaching, and other awkward postures. Workers who perform lots of transferring, bathing, and dressing patients have the highest rates of musculoskeletal injuries. Frequent heavy lifting, lifting in awkward postures, and lifting without assistance are significant predictors of permanent work disability in home healthcare workers. Implementing ergonomics and using equipment such as adjustable beds, raised toilet seats, shower chairs, and grab bars are helpful for reducing musculoskeletal risk factors. However, even when assistive devices are used, it is impossible to eliminate the need for some amount of physical exertion.
The home setting may involve stressors, such as lack of control over work planning and physical risk factors such as strenuous postures. NIOSH defines job stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker”. Job stressors for home healthcare occupations include but are not limited to work overload, time pressure, lack of task control and role ambiguity; and organizational factors, such as poor interpersonal relations, lack of support from supervisors and co-workers, and unfair management practices. There are also socioeconomic factors, training and career development issues, and conflict between work and family roles and responsibilities. Common home healthcare workers stressors:
- Ill and dying clients
- Workload and time pressures
- Increasing emphasis on healthcare cost savings
- Patient aggression
- Patients who are disoriented, irritable, or uncooperative
Home healthcare workers’ tasks are not directly supervised. They generally work alone, travel through unsafe neighborhoods, and potentially face alcohol or drug abusers, family arguments, dangerous dogs, or heavy traffic.
Home healthcare providers are vulnerable to violent assaults. They face an unprotected and unpredictable environment each time they enter the patient’s community and home.
There is a wide range of workplace violence that can take place, from verbal abuse and threats of assault, to homicide. Examples of violence include:
- Threats: expressions of intent to cause harm (verbal, body language, written)
- Physical assaults: attacks including slapping, beating, rape, homicide, and the use of weapons such as firearms, bombs, knives
- Mugging: an aggressive assault, usually by surprise and with intent to rob
About Thayer Innes and Freeman Bunting Insurance Agencies
At Thayer-Innes Insurance Agency and Freeman Bunting Insurance Agency, we strive to provide comprehensive insurance solutions to support Ann Arbor homeowners. Our homeowners’ policies can be tailored to meet your specific risk exposures and provides much more coverage than a traditional policy, giving you the peace of mind you deserve. For more information about our products, contact us today at (855) 395-6316.