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Key issues in occupational safety

October 27, 2015


With new statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimating that around 58,000 work-related injuries are caused in US hospitals each year, it's clear that the matter of occupational health still needs addressing.

However, it's important to look at the key issues relating to occupational health to ensure that healthcare workers are being safeguarded against the most prevalent and common hazards they are exposed to.

Although sharps safety is a key issue, it's important to look at the other factors affecting occupational health in hospitals. 

Respiratory protection is a problem that is becoming much more significant, with OSHA recently updating its instructions for conducting inspections and issuing citations related to worker exposures to tuberculosis (TB) in healthcare settings. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in three of the world's population is infected with TB and the disease kills nearly 1.5 million people every year.

In 2013, more than 9,500 cases of TB were reported in the US alone and around 380 of these cases were in healthcare workers. This highlights the degree of problem facing those involved with occupation health, but a key issue lies with the difficulties that often emerge when trying to treat the condition.

Multidrug-resistant and extremely drug-resistant TB continue to pose serious threats to workers in healthcare settings, while the infection occurs when a susceptible person inhales droplets from an infected person.

This means that respiratory protection is a fundamental part of any occupational health programme, and the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP) identifies it as one of the critical areas of competence for the occupational health professional (OHP) in healthcare. 

The AOHP also highlights the role of healthcare workers, saying that having competent staff lead occupational health programmes is key for those who work with patients who are at risk.

"Building the respiratory protection competence of healthcare professional and frontline healthcare workers will better equip healthcare to be prepared for any airborne illness," says AOHP executive president Dee Tyler, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN.

"AOHP supports training strategies that promote the proper use of PPE, and AOHP will continue to advocate for and participate in national efforts that build a culture of safety in healthcare."

The AOHP recently changed its approach on respiratory protection for healthcare workers, highlighting the organisation's increased efforts to encourage hospitals to introduce effective respiratory protection programmes and ensure all healthcare staff are trained so they can correctly use related equipment.

OSHA has released a toolkit that highlights the importance of having a multi-modal approach to infection prevention and control, encompassing employee vaccination; hand hygiene and proper and PPE usage, among other strategies. 

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