Health care has B.C.'s most dangerous workplaces - WCB

New report confirms that health care workers suffer highest rates of job-related injury and disease, most likely to be victims of violence A new report by the Workers' Compensation Board confirms what is painfully obvious to many HEU members - working on the front lines of B.C.'s health care system is harmful to your health. Health care workers continue to be the most likely to sustain an occupational injury or disease and are also more likely to be the victims of on-the-job violence. And in a disturbing trend, the duration of claims has increased by almost 20 per cent in the period 1994 to 1998, a statistic that indicates that the severity of injuries are on the rise. "Despite the gains made in the last round of bargaining on OH&S issues, it's clear there's still a lot of work to be done to reduce the injury carnage faced by our members every single day on the job," says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. "The costs to our members' health, to health care budgets and to our ability to deliver quality care, is far too high." The study - Health Care Industry Focus Report on Occupational Injury and Disease - covers the period 1994 to 1998. And the WCB says the latest figures available continue to support the trends identified in the report. Key findings of the healthcare report for the five-year period include: • an overall increase in the number of claims, duration of claims, work days lost and claims costs; • 1.5 million workdays were lost and claims costs exceeded $155 million; • average claim duration increased 19 per cent over the period to 57 days; • overexertion due to handling of patients and materials account for the majority of claims and costs; • acts of violence and force account for seven per cent of all claims (compared to two per cent for all industries combined) - the highest rate for B.C. workers; and •nurse aides, LPNs and care aides are the most often injured in health care. The high cost of workplace injuries has reduced the health care industryís WCB insurance account from a $71 million surplus in 1997 to a $9 million deficit just two years later. But ironically, health employers received a series of WCB premium breaks since 1994 while injuries rates were on the increase. They're now facing huge rate increases that could suck millions of dollars out of health care budgets, making it more difficult to increase staffing levels, purchase lifting equipment and put in place other programs to reduce workplace injuries. Allnutt says the Health Care Occupational Health and Safety Agency negotiated during the last round of bargaining is a step in the right direction. But he says increasing workloads - a primary cause of injuries ñ must be addressed in a dramatic way. "We need strong language in the next round of negotiations that protects workers from damaging workload levels," says Allnutt.