Oregon OSHA Administrator
At times, I have been troubled by the seeming acceptance of risk as "just part of the job" in many different industry sectors. Workplace health and safety professionals frequently push back on that attitude, and we have done so with some success over the years. But the health care industry provides its own special challenges.
Health care does not readily jump to the "hazardous industries" list for most of us. But there are very real risks throughout the industry. Health care is the front line in combatting infectious diseases of all sorts. And it is the place where the old adage "the dose makes the poison" may have the most validity – the drugs that help patients in specific and controlled circumstances can present considerable risks for those exposed to them unnecessarily and in excessive quantities. The risks of violence, discussed elsewhere in this publication, often present themselves in settings where caregivers are at their most nurturing, whether it's the memory-care facility or the emergency room. Whether in surgery, dentistry, or any number of other health care settings, the combination of stress, awkward postures, and intensive work provides ergonomic challenges that can often be avoided in other contexts.
And then there is patient handling, another issue addressed elsewhere in this issue of Resource.
One of the common elements in both patient handling and violence is the tension (sometimes real and sometimes imagined) between protecting patients and protecting caregivers. The truth is that mutual protection is often easier to achieve than we realize (safe patient handling techniques and equipment, for example, generally make both the caregiver and the patient safer). But the tension exists nonetheless, if only because we are dealing with a population that has become accustomed to a level of self-sacrifice in dealing with those under their care.
That's a reality with which we must deal, and we cannot simply disregard it. But we can remind ourselves and others that those who care for us, at our most needy and most vulnerable, themselves deserve protection. And we can certainly do a better job of providing it. ◼︎
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