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The health and safety challenges of health care workers

While no one in Illinois has yet to be diagnosed with Ebola, the executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health said that the infection of at least one hospital worker in Texas shows that better protection is needed for health care workers. The executive director also said that better safety programs are needed because health care professionals face many potentially fatal hazards on a regular basis.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported that there were 653,900 workplace illnesses and injuries in 2010 in the health care industry, which means that the industry had the most injuries in the private sector that year. To achieve a higher standard of safety in hospitals, workers need to have a say in creating the procedures that prevent hazards and should not fear reprisal when reporting safety violations or hazardous conditions. Employees also need access to the proper protective equipment and adequate training.

In addition to exposure to infectious diseases, health care workers face other hazards due to needles and sharp objects, exposure to chemicals and radiation, possible workplace violence and injuries caused by heavy lifting. OSHA and state agencies were only able to inspect 271 hospitals out of thousands in 2011, so the dangers health care professionals face may only be reduced when workers set and enforce safety standards.

Health care workers and others have the right to file a workers' compensation claim in order to receive medical treatment or partial wages while recovering from a workplace illness. There are typically caps on the benefits an injured or ill worker can receive, and accepting this compensation usually waives one's right to pursue a personal injury action against the employer.

Source: EHS Today, "Ebola Outbreak Shows Need for Stronger Protection for Health Care Workers", Sandy Smith, October 17, 2014

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