6 prevention strategies employers can use to stop workplace violence and keep workers safe

By Bobbie J. Fox
Attorney for SCF Arizona

Violence in the workplace can happen to any business, regardless of the number of employees. According to a recent survey, over one-third of all organizations (36%) reported incidents of workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 2 million U.S. workers per year are victims of workplace violence. When it happens, the personal and economic toll on a business is great.  Continue reading

Protect workers during flu season

In Arizona the flu season has reached widespread status, and it’s infected thousands of workers across the country.

In addition to being five weeks early, variations of the flu are hitting Americans hard, CBS News reports.

The strength of this year’s outbreak
In the first week of 2013, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 47 states had reported geographic influenza activity. In addition, the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness was 4.3 percent nationwide, which is significantly higher than the national historic average of 2.2 percent.

As outbreak numbers surge, Americans are heading to the internet for health information. Google’s influenza tracker, which analyzes how often people search for flu-related terms, estimates how many people are sick, Bloomberg reports. The tracker, which was developed with the CDC, found that this year’s outbreak is larger than any other sickness in the past six years, including the 2009 swine flu.

Fortunately, Arizona and surrounding states have seen relatively low numbers of outbreaks. While the flu can be a dangerous illness, it can also be easily prevented, Dr. Jon LaPook told CBS News.

“The CDC wants you to be concerned, because every year you can have tens of thousands of deaths,” he said. “And there is a very good vaccine out there and they want people to take it.”

Encourage workers to get vaccinated
The current shot encompasses all three strains of the flu, LaPook stated, and is recommended for everyone older than 6 months old. Although the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to kick in, it’s not too late to encourage employees to get it because flu season could last through April or May.

Bloomberg estimates the flu costs employers an average $10.4 billion in direct expenses for hospitalization and outpatient visits. The high cost may be associated with the low number of Americans who seek preventative medical care. When the outbreak began in November, only 37 percent of Americans had received a flu shot.

Taking preventative measures against the flu
In addition to recommending workers schedule regular medical checkups, employers can encourage proper sanitary habits in the workplace. It’s a good idea to enforce hand washing rules and educate employees on the dangers of poor hygiene.

Also, remind workers to cough or sneeze into a tissue or shirtsleeve, instead of the palms of their hands, and to dispose of used tissues.

If an employer suspects a worker is sick, they may encourage social distancing, which entails reducing the proximity, frequency and duration of contact between two people, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It may be also good idea to ask contagious employees to work from home if possible or to stay home at least 24 hours after the fever has gone away without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Healthcare workers’ comp claims grow more severe

While workers’ compensation claims in the healthcare industry are expected to decline in 2013, the severity of work-related illness and injury claims in the sector is expected to increase, according to a recent forecast by Aon Risk Solutions.

The stats
The “2012 Healthcare Workers Compensation Barometer” states the frequency at which claims are filed has decreased slowly and consistently over the past 10 years. However, claim severity, including medical, indemnity and expense costs have slowly increased at a rate of 2 percent each year.

Aon surveyed data from 53 healthcare systems, representing roughly 1,000 facilities. Unsafe patient handling was identified as the No. 1 concern among risk managers. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the the most common source of injury in healthccare stems from workers physically lifting patients. Aon explains related claims have the highest average indemnity payouts and account for 25 percent of healthcare workers’ compensation claims.

Absent management, managing costs and an aging workforce were also sources of concern for risk managers.

Preventing costly claims
Employers can take several steps to protect their workers and avoid costly, severe claims.

The CDC states the high numbers of patient lifting-related injuries can be attributed to an aging workforce and high rates of obesity. In 2010, the Arizona obesity rate was 25 percent, according to the Arizona Department of Health.

When health workers attempt to lift patients, they expose themselves to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In Arizona, there are no safe patient-handling laws in place. Business owners may consider implementing policies against manual lifting to protect workers and patients. These policies should clearly state why lifting is unsafe, and employers may consider posting the rules throughout facilities.

It’s also a good idea to educate nurses and caregivers on the dangers associated with unsafe patient handling and how MSDs can affect the body. Employers may consider investing in patient-lifting equipment. Full-body and half-body lifts greatly reduce the chances of accidents and injuries. While the majority of facilities Aon surveyed use mechanical lifting devices, few have lift policies. Employees may be tempted to avoid the machines because of the time it takes to load patients. However, “any added time it takes to use lifts is worthwhile since mechanical lifting aids improve caregiver and patient safety while also preventing patient falls,” Aon states.

Preventing other injury and illness
In addition to limiting unsafe patient handling, employers should consider other risks in the healthcare work environment. Needlestick injuries can lead to serious and fatal bloodborne diseases. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests eliminating needle use if effective alternatives are available. If needles are necessary, healthcare facilities may use devices with supplemental safety equipment.

Latex allergies can also be a serious health hazard to employees. Reactions can range from rash development and itchy eyes to coughing and shock in serious cases. Employers may want to purchase non-latex gloves and encourage employees to maintain standard hygiene practices.

Aon suggests return-to-work programs, while only mildly popular, keep business and premium costs down and benefit injured workers.