OSHA Update: Worker Safety in Hospitals

If someone was to ask you which line of work is more likely to result in injury or illness resulting from days away from work and your choices were construction, manufacturing, or hospitals, chances are one of the first two would be your choice. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s hospitals.

Worker safety in all industries is always a concern for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), including the medical field. On January 15, OSHA released a web-based educational resource that aims to enhance worker and patient safety in hospitals. In 2011 alone, U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses, that’s a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees. Compared to the private industry, that’s almost twice the rate. Needless to say, it’s time for a change.

These new materials can help prevent hospital worker injuries and improve patient safety, while reducing costs.

-Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA

hospitals-pageThe new materials OSHA created include resources to help hospitals assess workplace safety needs, implement safety and health management systems, and enhance their safe patient handling programs. OSHA believes the new resources will help prevent worker injuries, as well as help patients and save resources for hospitals.

Improving worker safety in hospitals

The hospital environment provides a unique work experience like no other. This leads to serious hazards that many are not accustomed to in the workplace. These hazards include lifting and moving patients, needlesticks, slips, trips, and falls, and the potential for agitated or combative patients or visitors — along with a dynamic, unpredictable environment and a unique culture.

Did you know? Nationwide, workers’ compensation losses result in a total annual expense of $2 billion for hospitals!

The materials provide on the website are designed to address the most common type of injuries hospital workers encounter. With the hope that hospitals will use the resources to not only protect their workers, but improve patient safety and reduce costs.

At the heart of these materials are the lessons from high-performing hospitals that have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety.

-Dr. David Michaels

How is your hospital doing? Use this assessment tool from OSHA to do an evaluation today.

The case for the safety and health management system

Part of the resource package OSHA is offering, includes a section on the importance of a safety and health management system. OSHA believes that a comprehensive, proactive safety and health management system is one of the most effective ways to lower workplace hazards and injuries. Part of the safety and health management system’s goals should always be to find and fix workplace hazards before employees are injured or become sick. Once this becomes a priority, the benefits will start to add up. These benefits include protected workers, saving money, and making all your hazard-specific programs more effective.

Did you know? Almost 50 percent of injuries and illnesses reported in 2011 among nurses and nursing support staff were musculoskeletal disorders.

Myth vs. Fact

There is a big debate in hospitals as to the effectiveness of mechanical lift equipment in reducing injuries and increasing efficiency. So as part of the resource package, OSHA has assembled the following Myth vs. Fact list to help debunk some of the critics out there who doubt mechanical lift equipment:


  • You can train workers to use proper body mechanics and avoid injuries.
  • Patients are not as comfortable or safe with mechanical lifting.
  • It takes less time to move patients than to use lift equipment.
  • Lifting equipment is not affordable or cost-effective.


  • Over 30 years of research and experience has revealed that relying on proper body mechanics or manual lifting techniques alone is not effective to reduce back and other musculoskeletal injuries. Instead, a comprehensive safe patient handling program that combines management commitment, employee involvement, policies, mechanical equipment, training, and maintenance is needed.
  • Patients need education too. It helps them understand that the their safety as well as the caregiver’s is important. Patient handling equipment as shown to prevent patient falls, bruises, and skin tears. New studies have shown that patients feel more comfortable and secure when a mechanical transfer device is used.
  • Actually, it can take longer to round up a team to move a patient than if you would’ve used a mechanical device. It has been shown that using a mechanical device to transfer patients takes less personnel and about five minutes less, overall, than manual transfers.
  • Studies have shown that a hospital can recover their initial capital investment in lifting equipment in two to five years.

Furthermore, hospitals with successful safe patient handling programs have shown that the following long-term benefits significantly trump the costs:

  • Less injuries
  • Reduction in lost time and worker compensation claims
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher quality of work life and worker satisfaction which leads to higher staff retention
  • Improved patent care and satisfaction

You can see the list of resources used to create the previous list and more facts here. 

Additional Resources