Safety Risks and Preventive Measures for Home Health Care Workers

homehealthworkerThe nonfatal occupational injury and illness rate among home health care workers is almost two and a half times the rate for all private and public sector workers, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Home health care workers include personal aides, nursing assistants and home health nurses. Their job is to provide hands-on, long-term care to patients in their homes. If they understand the safety risks and follow preventive measures, they can help ensure their safety on the job.

Risk: Unsafe conditions

Home health care workers can be exposed to unsafe conditions, such as homes without water or with extreme temperatures, unsanitary conditions, rodents and hostile pets.

Preventive measures:

  • Understand which conditions are acceptable for a work environment.
  • Know when to remove yourself from a situation.
  • Talk to your supervisor about unsafe conditions in clients’ homes.
  • Follow your employer’s procedures for reporting unsafe conditions.

Risk: Bloodborne pathogens

Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV are just some of the more common bloodborne pathogens home health workers can be exposed to. Exposure may occur through needles, sharp injuries, mucus membranes and skin exposures. 

Preventive measures:

  • Learn your employer’s exposure control plan.
  • Wear gloves, goggles and other appropriate personal protective equipment at all times.
  • Follow protocols when handling blood or other body fluids to prevent direct exposure.
  • Completely seal containers, following proper medical procedures.

Risk: Workplace violence

Workplace violence includes verbal abuse, threats, physical abuse and homicide. Employers should maintain a zero-tolerance policy for violence.

Preventive measures:

  • Immediately report violence to your employer.
  • Know how to identify a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Ask your employer for training on how to manage hostile and violent situations.
  • Remove yourself from the home if you feel uncomfortable at any time.

Risk: Lifting and moving clients

Moving bedridden patients can cause musculoskeletal disorders, such as low-back pain and rotator cuff injuries. These can be caused by excessive force to the back when lifting a client, the repetition of the movement and lifting in an awkward position.  

Preventive measures:

The best solution is to minimize or eliminate manual lifting of patients when possible. If that is not possible, consider these factors:

  • The level of assistance the patient needs
  • The patient’s size and weight
  • The patient’s ability to understand and cooperate
  • The patient’s medical conditions

Risk: Motor vehicle accidents

Home health care workers travel to and from patient homes every day. In fact, driving can be the most frequent task they perform, increasing their risk of traffic accidents.

Preventive measures:

  • Stay alert and drive defensively.
  • Make sure your vehicle is regularly maintained and serviced.
  • Adjust accordingly for weather and traffic conditions.

The more home health care workers are prepared to protect themselves against these hazards, the more productive and safe the environment will be for them and their clients.

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