Although nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses declined in 2012 from over 3.6 million in 2011, statistics in the healthcare industry remain high. Contrary to what most people may believe, there are less injuries and illnesses in extremely dangerous sectors such as manufacturing and mining that healthcare. The highest incident rate is in nursing homes; hospitals rank number two.
These staggering statistics represent significant losses to employee well-being and productivity. This is hardly an acceptable atmosphere in an industry that is trained to take care of sick people. With healthcare workers 1.6 times more likely to suffer a workplace injury, medical staffing agencies should keep safety concerns as a number one priority.
Their exposure is heightened because they could have employees in various medical facilities at any given time and cannot closely monitor what happens in these facilities. Therefore, the best approach for medical staffing firms is to follow the practices and OSHA standards already in place.
According to OSHA statistics, exposure to blood borne pathogens are a concern for more than seven million workers in healthcare and related occupations providing services to patients. Potential exposure to viruses such as hepatitis B and HIV increase when workers provide long-term care for patients with terminal illnesses. Daily tasks expose these workers to infectious materials and blood, which are conduits for spreading certain diseases.
Medical staffing firms recruit skilled and talented workers to provide optimum care for their clients. Administering injections, using suction equipment and other daily tasks involving patient care is necessary in the medical profession. With this comes the need for safe work practices and controls to prevent the transmission of diseases in health care facilities.
While facilities are required to follow certain standards, medical staffing firms can reinforce these standards by making sure employees receive proper training. Typically, the facility will provide training for workers; where they do not, medical staffing firms should have a training system in place.
Some safety controls that apply to health care facilities should follow guidelines required by OSHA. For example, the use of puncture resistant leak-proof containers during the collection, handling, processing, storing and transporting of potentially infectious materials including blood specimens. These containers must also be used to store contaminated materials until proper disposal is possible. Color-coded labels are an additional layer of protection for other employees who may come in contact with the materials.
Reusable materials must also be stored and process to ensure safe handling. Some facilities will have mechanical devices that allow workers to retrieve used instruments in decontamination areas from soaking pans.
Similarly, the likelihood of exposure improves when workplace controls alter how certain tasks are performed. Any spraying, splashing or splattering of contaminants should be minimized by following safe work practices. Hands should be washed immediately when gloves are removed or when a worker makes contact with blood or other materials that are potentially infectious.
Other controls include:
In addition to the safety and work practice controls that medical facilities must follow, there are standards for protective clothing and equipment. It is not unusual for some medical staffing firms to provide some equipment or a reimbursement for employees who must purchase certain items on their own. In either case, protective clothing and equipment are required to reduce risk exposure. Appropriate protection should not allow potentially infectious materials to pass onto clothing, skin or mucous membranes.
Examples of this type of equipment and protective clothing may include gowns, gloves, face masks or shields, eye protection and laboratory coats. Employer-provided equipment is usually maintained and laundered at the employer’s expense.
Incidents of exposure occur when the mouth, eye or any other mucous membrane comes in contact with potentially infectious materials while performing workplace duties. For example, a healthcare worker might get punctured by a sharp instrument that was not properly contained. Medical care facilities are required to have a procedure for handling exposure incidents. Again, medical staffing firms should reinforce these practices to not only protect workers from physical exposure, but to also avoid potential liability for a worker’s illness or death.
Proper evaluation of an exposure incident will require an immediate assessment and care for confidentiality. Workers are required to report such incidents immediately to the medical staffing firm and immediate supervisor onsite. The staffing firm, in conjunction with the medical facility, will guide the exposes worker through the process of receiving timely medical attention and follow-up care. Generally, a request is issued for HBV and HIV blood tests, in addition to the necessary medical care.
Post-exposure evaluation and follow-up with a healthcare professional is part of the treatment plan at the time of the incident. As needed, the following information should be provided to ensure the exposed worker receives proper care and attention:
Once the post-exposure evaluation is completed, the medical staffing firm should receive a written opinion from the healthcare professional that provided treatment. At a minimum, this report should state that the worker received evaluation results and notification of further treatment or evaluation at a later date, if necessary. The staffing firm should provide a copy of the report to its worker and maintain the original in confidential medical records that are separate from the employee file.
Any future evaluations and follow-up procedures should be paid for by the staffing firm at no cost to the worker. Everything should occur within a reasonable time frame to limit or completely eliminate any long-term medical issues. Generally, additional evaluations should be performed by a licensed healthcare professional such as a doctor or nurse practitioner. Additionally, laboratory tests should be conducted by an accredited laboratory with no costs to the worker.
Medical staffing firms should consider risk management and safety programs that are tailored to the types of healthcare staffing services they provide. Even though medical facilities are required to follow OSHA guidelines, staffing firms have an obligation to its workers and business to make sure safety is a top priority.
Once standards of safety are in place, medical staffing firms can place workers in facilities with confidence. They will know how to handle an exposure incident. Standard procedures can also help the firm determine causes and whether incorrect implementation of practices led to the incident. If so, corrective measures can be implemented to address such issues. Over time, the process helps to remove the possibility of the same incident recurring.