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Workplace Safety

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Managing job safety for home healthcare workers

Like their counterparts in hospitals and other institutions, home healthcare workers face hazards ranging from strains and sprains to the risks of infection. However, home healthcare workers may encounter additional risks that don’t exist in hospital-type settings. These can include dangerous clutter or lack of cleanliness, hostile pets, or even hostile residents.

Home healthcare is also travel-intensive, which raises the risks of car accidents and having to deal with inclement weather.

Fortunately, years of successful experience have led to published guidelines that really help home healthcare workers prepare for, and minimize, job-related risks and injuries.

Some things to watch for

The list of risks specific to home healthcare workers isn’t complicated. They also aren’t terribly difficult to avoid, if you know in advance what to watch for. Being prepared to deal with risks before they arise is always the best approach. Here are the main points to watch for, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

  • Always remain watchful and aware of your surroundings, especially when arriving at a new location for the first time. If the neighborhood or neighbors give you a bad feeling, trust your instincts, and just move on. Call it in, and come back later with a companion.
  • Always make sure your office knows where you are, especially when you’ve arrived at a patient’s home and are about to enter. Keep your cell phone on and within reach in case you want to make an urgent call.
  • Lock your car, keep your materials locked in the trunk, and keep an extra set of keys with you in case you accidentally lock yours in the car. Also, to avoid the risk of being stranded, keep your car in good running condition with a full tank of gas.
  • Wear strong, sensible shoes, and watch out for slippery floors, cracks, broken glass or any other dangerous or unclean substances. If a patient requests that you take off your shoes in the house, explain that you aren’t permitted to work without shoes on. Instead, get the patient’s agreement that you will wear disposable OR-type shoe covers while in their home (always have some in your supplies).
  • Infections can go both ways – to or from a patient. Scrupulously follow all sterile protocols, and take all precautions when working with infectious patients.
  • Sprains, strains and muscle injuries are the most common risks among home healthcare workers. If you have to move a heavy patient and you’re doubtful of your strength to do so, bring someone with you to assist.
  • Pets are another potential hazard. A sudden change in a pet’s ‘attitude’ can lead to injury. Make it a firm policy never to interact with pets, no matter how friendly they may seem. Many workers actually insist that pets be closed in a separate room or part of the house while you’re on the premises.
  • Stress is a common occurrence in the healthcare industry. The good news is, it can be managed. If you find yourself feeling “stressed out” don’t keep it a secret. Instead, try communicating with experienced co-workers. And avoid the temptation to “pop a pill,” which might impair your ability to provide quality care. Best of all, try to put a “positive spin” on things, which is a good idea at any time.

Job safety guidelines

To learn more about how to avoid work related injury, there are plenty of home healthcare safety guides available online from government agencies.

For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), of the Department of Labor, has published a series of guidelines that cover home healthcare risks and avoidances. Some excellent guidelines are also available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Department Of Health And Human Services. “Occupational Hazards in Home Healthcare” [link: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-125/pdfs/2010-125.pdf   ](click to download the PDF) is a great source of information about avoiding common risks.

The bottom line

Over a million healthcare professionals work in the field of home healthcare. The reason for this appears to center around the concept of freedom – especially the freedom from the heavily regimented routines of institutional patient care. Such freedoms can also include leeway in choosing your own hours, or perhaps getting paid when you need it, instead of having to wait for payday.

Perhaps the biggest plus is the welcome variation in one’s work environment. There’s a lot of satisfaction in meeting new people in challenging new situations, and helping them with their health problems .

It’s like making new friends, and getting paid for it!

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