The recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows 7.3% of nursing home workers suffered nonfatal injuries or illnesses in the workplace in 2012. This figure was much higher (over 13%) in facilities operated by state governments. For some people this high figure was not news. OSHA has previously reported that as far back as 1993, 17 one of every 100 nursing home employees suffered an on-the-job injury or illness that led to the need to stay home from work. However old the problem is, nursing home injuries are an important issue to Massachusetts and other states and are only likely to become more critical because the nursing home industry is growing fast.
People are living longer and longer. Within forty years, there will be 70 million people over the age of 65 and 9 million over the age of 85 —three times the people over age 85 today. The sick and elderly spend less time in hospitals and more time in homes. OSHA believes that the numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics most likely represent only a small fraction of the actual number of nursing home injuries. Many workers don’t report injuries — they quit or use their sick time or suffer in silence.
We’re used to thinking of the construction and mining industries as some of the most dangerous industries, as they involve dramatic accidents and fatalities: cave-ins, falls from very high places, asbestos or other toxic exposures, electrocutions and amputations. But dramatic accidents are not the only kinds of accidents that lead to serious long-term injuries. Repetitive motion, for example, can cause debilitating conditions over time.
Fatalities are less common among nursing home workers than they are among fishermen, miners and oil and gas drillers. However nonfatal injuries occur in nursing homes among workers more than three times as often as they occur among miners and twice as often as they occur among construction workers.
The reason for the high rate of injuries is that nursing workers must lift and move patients constantly. Often, patients are heavy and a nursing home worker repeatedly overexerts him or herself to lift the patient. This can lead to muscular or skeletal disorders. The number of sprains and strain injuries is significant. Nursing workers also risk accidentally contracting diseases either through needles or airborne exposure to such illnesses as tuberculosis, which are common in an elderly population.
What can nursing homes do to remedy this problem for their workers? This is a problem that employers can and should address. Better beds, especially those with mechanical components to lift patients, can help. While it may seem expensive to replace beds and invest equipment, the high turnover in nursing assistants is partly because of stressful and painful working condition. This high turnover can result in higher costs for a business and poor resident care. The back injuries that nursing assistants suffer cost a lot of money to treat through worker’s compensation and sick leave. Putting a good injury and illness prevention program in place is critical.
If you have been seriously injured on the job, an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help you navigate complex workers’ compensation laws. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.