Workers Comp: Home Healthcare and Occupational Hazards
Home healthcare services represent one of the fastest-growing segments in the U.S., as increasingly more individuals are looking to remain at home as they age and need assistance. In fact, today home healthcare is a $74.5 billion industry with 304,350 businesses serving individuals throughout the country. This niche is made up of workers that provide skilled nursing care, personal care, homemaker and companion services, physical therapy and other support services and in-home hospice care providers.
The services home healthcare workers perform come with inherent occupational hazards and result in Workers’ Compensation claims. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), these hazards include: overexertion; stress; verbal abuse and other forms of violence in the home or community; bloodborne pathogens; needlesticks; latex sensitivity; temperature extremes; and unhygienic conditions, including lack of water, unclean or hostile animals, and animal waste. Long commutes from worksite to worksite also expose the home healthcare worker to transportation-related risks.
Here we will take a look at a couple of occupational hazards and measures that can be taken to minimize these exposures for home healthcare workers:
A work-related musculoskeletal disorder is an injury of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, joints, cartilage, bones, or blood vessels in the extremities or back that is caused or aggravated by work tasks such as lifting, pushing, and pulling. Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders include pain, stiffness, swelling, numbness, and tingling.
Home healthcare workers can develop musculo-skeletal disorders from any number of common work activities including forceful exertions (activities that require a person to apply high levels of force, such as during lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy loads); awkward postures when lifting; and repeated activities without adequate recovery time. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sprains and strains are among the most common lost-work-time injuries to home healthcare workers. The most frequent causes of back pain and other injuries among nursing staff in home healthcare are lifting and moving patients (“patient transfers”) and bathing, dressing, and feeding patients.
What can employers do to help minimize these types of injuries among their home healthcare workers? The NIOSH recommends the following:
- Consult with a professional with expertise in patient-care ergonomics to determine when assistive devices are necessary and to provide training on proper use of the equipment. These devices include draw sheets, slide boards, rollers, slings, belts, and mechanical or electronic hoists (to lift the patient).
- Provide ergonomic training for workers.
- Evaluate each patient-care plan to determine whether ergonomic assistive devices are appropriate.
- Provide ergonomic assistive devices when needed.
- Reassess the training, the care plan, and the assistive devices once installed and in use by the caregiver.
Home healthcare work involves several challenges, including difficulty in controlling one’s work environment; working with ill and dying clients in some cases; workload and time pressures; patient aggression and caring for patients who are disoriented, irritable or uncooperative. Attracting workers and retaining them is a high priority for many home healthcare agencies, and providing a more healthful, less stressful, work climate is an important part of any retention strategy in lowering comp claims.
Home healthcare employers can take steps to help minimize occupational stress among their workers. This includes:
- Providing frequent, quality supervision and agency staff support.
- Providing adequate job training and preparation, including continuing education opportunities.
- Holding regular staff meetings in which problems, frustrations, and solutions can be discussed.
- Including lunch breaks and sufficient travel time in workers’ schedules and allowing self-paced work.
- Providing access to an employee assistance program or other means of counseling support.
In future blogs, we will cover other occupational hazards that contribute to workplace injuries and illnesses among home healthcare workers and recommendations to minimize these.
In addition to strong risk management practices, having a sound Workers’ Compensation program for the home healthcare industry is key. Caitlin Morgan serves this niche with a broad spectrum of insurance products and can provide you with affordable Workers’ Comp solutions for your clients. Give our professionals a call at 877.226.1027 to discuss our home healthcare insurance portfolio of products.
Sources: NIOSH, BLS