HCWs more likely to have dermatitis, asthma
Interviews reveal occupational risks in HC
How healthy are health care workers? New information from a national health survey indicates that they suffer from more work-related illnesses, such as dermatitis and asthma, than employees in other industries.
In an unprecedented view of worker health, the 2010 National Health Interview Survey included some common workplace concerns, from work-family balance to skin hazards. About 17,500 workers from every industry and occupation responded to questions in a personal interview.
The national survey covers a wide variety of health issues, and it last included occupational items in 1988. The 2010 update was funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which plans to add new questions on back pain and other ailments in 2015.
Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that some longstanding problems in health care continue to affect health care workers more than workers in other industries. For example, 12% of hospital workers reported that they had dermatitis, eczema or other red, inflamed skin rash in the past 12 months, compared with 9.8% for industry overall.
Irritant dermatitis stems from glove use, frequent hand hygiene, and possibly contact with cleaning or disinfecting agents, says Sara Luckhaupt, MD, MPH, a medical officer with NIOSH’s Surveillance Branch in Cincinnati. "Obviously, this isn’t something you can easily eliminate in the health care sector," she says.
The survey does provide information about the scope of the problem, she says. "We’re hoping this data will increase awareness of the problem," she says. "By providing these national estimates, if an individual hospital wants to do a survey of their workers, they can see how the prevalence among their workers compares to the national estimates."
Hand creams and moisturizing products can help protect the hands of health care workers, she says. (See related article on dermatitis in HEH, April 2013.)
The burden of asthma also is greater among health care workers. While 2.9% of the health care workers in the survey reported that they had been told by a health professional that their asthma was work-related, most said that that possibility was never discussed.
Potential asthmagens in hospitals include aerosolized medications, cleaning agents, formaldehyde and glutaradehyde. The substances also can trigger effects in people who have pre-existing asthma.
"It’s important to recognize the impact that work can have on health and different health conditions," Luckhaupt says.
The survey also revealed problems in the work environment. Health care workers were more likely than other workers to report that they had been "threatened, bullied or harassed" on the job. In fact, one in 10 nurses reported having a hostile work environment. The survey didn’t distinguish between incidents involving co-workers or supervisors and those involving aggressive behavior by patients.
NIOSH is seeking more information about the scope of workplace violence. It is one of the three areas being tracked by the new Occupational Health System Network surveillance system. (See related article on p. 115.)
Health care workers did come out better off in some areas of the survey. They are less likely to have job insecurity and less likely to smoke. Hospital workers were about as likely as other workers to say they had work-life balance — but the report varied by occupation. About 30% of physicians said they did not find it easy to combine work with family responsibilities.
[Editor’s note: The results of the Occupational Health Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey are available at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nhis/profile.html.]