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Is health care becoming safer? That might seem like a simple question, answered by a quick look at national injury statistics. The rate of serious injuries — those that lead to days away from work — has dropped steadily for the past 10 years. But beyond that sunny fact lie some other, troubling trends.
Some 168,360 health care and social assistance workers were seriously injured in 2012 — more than in any private industry sector. Musculoskeletal disorders made up 42% of those injuries. More nursing assistants suffered MSD injuries that cost them time from work than any other worker except laborers and freight movers. The highest rates of MSD injuries were among emergency medical technicians and paramedics, orderlies, and nursing assistants, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another health care hazard has been more difficult to quantify. Despite significant progress with safer sharps, needlesticks continue to occur on a frequent basis in the nation's hospitals. A new survey indicates that there are about one-third of a million needlesticks each year.
In this issue of HEH, we highlight the occupational health goals for two key health care hazards and recent studies that shed light on the progress and gaps in addressing them.