- Safety and Health Topics
What is healthcare?
Healthcare is involved, directly or indirectly, with the provision of health services to individuals. These services can occur in a variety of work settings, including hospitals, clinics, dental offices, out-patient surgery centers, birthing centers, emergency medical care, home healthcare, and nursing homes.
What types of hazards do workers face?
Healthcare workers face a number of serious safety and health hazards. They include bloodborne pathogens and biological hazards, potential chemical and drug exposures, waste anesthetic gas exposures, respiratory hazards, ergonomic hazards from lifting and repetitive tasks, laser hazards, workplace violence, hazards associated with laboratories, and radioactive material and x-ray hazards. Some of the potential chemical exposures include formaldehyde, used for preservation of specimens for pathology; ethylene oxide, glutaraldehyde, and paracetic acid used for sterilization; and numerous other chemicals used in healthcare laboratories.
How many workers get sick or injured?
More workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other. This industry has one of the highest rates of work related injuries and illnesses. In 2010, the healthcare and social assistance industry reported more injury and illness cases than any other private industry sector -- 653,900 cases (Table 2). That is 152,000 more cases than the next industry sector: manufacturing. In 2010, the incidence rate for work related nonfatal injuries and illnesses in health care and social assistance was 139.9; the incidence rate for nonfatal injury and illnesses in all private industry was 107.7.
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations in 2010. The incidence rate of work related musculoskeletal disorders for these occupations was 249 per 10,000 workers. This compares to the average rate for all workers in 2010 of 34.
To learn more about workplace injuries and illnesses in hospitals, see the helpful resources and tools on OSHA's Understanding the Problem page.
Other than doctors and nurses, what workers are exposed?
In addition to the medical staff, large healthcare facilities employ a wide variety of trades that have health and safety hazards associated with them. These include mechanical maintenance, medical equipment maintenance, housekeeping, food service, building and grounds maintenance, laundry, and administrative staff.
Culture of Safety
Provides information on organizations safety culture and linking patient to worker safety.
Discusses workers and workplaces and how they make occupational exposure to infectious diseases challenging.
Safe Patient Handling
Provides information and resources on musculoskeletal disorders.
Provides information on evaluating hazards, determining solutions and risk factors related to workplace violence in the healthcare industry.
Discusses other hazards in the healthcare industry such as chemicals, hazardous drugs, and materials that cause allergic reactions.
Standards and Enforcement
Highlights standards and other enforcement information related to the healthcare industry.
In Focus: Ebola
- NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication Number 2015-115, (May 2015).
- NIOSH/OSHA/CDC Toolkit. Hospital Respiratory Protection Program Toolkit: Resources for Respirator Program Administrators (EPUB | MOBI). (2015). Assists hospitals in developing and implementing effective respiratory protection programs, with an emphasis on preventing the transmission of aerosol transmissible diseases (e.g., influenza, TB, SARS, MERS) to healthcare personnel. Appendix D is a template that can be used to customize your facilities program.
- Isocyanates: Do You Have Work-Related Asthma? A Guide for You and Your Doctor. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3707), (2014).
- Safe Patient Handling -- Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders in Nursing Homes. OSHA Publication 3108, (February 2014).
- Worker Safety in Hospitals: Caring for Our Caregivers. OSHA, (January 2013).
- FDA, NIOSH and OSHA Joint Safety Communication on Blunt-Tip Surgical Suture Needles. (2012).
- Hospital eTool. OSHA, (2012).
- Improving Patient and Worker Safety: Opportunities for Synergy, Collaboration and Innovation. The Joint Commission, (2012).
- National Emphasis Program for
Nursing and Residential Care Facilities. OSHA, (2012).
- Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication Number 2015-102, (November 2014). Assists trainers in meeting the health and safety training needs for homecare workers and to enhance communication between homecare workers and their clients.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-Site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-Site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.