Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Surveillance System to Monitor Health of Hospital Workers

Objective:

Surveillance System to Monitor Health of Hospital Workers: Healthcare workers are exposed to a variety of work-related hazards including biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic, psychological hazards; and workplace violence. The Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare in British Columbia (OHSAH), in conjunction with British Columbia (BC) health regions, developed and implemented a comprehensive surveillance system that tracks occupational exposures and stressors as well as injuries and illnesses among a defined population of healthcare workers.

Intervention:

Workplace Health Indicator Tracking and Evaluation (WHITE(TM)) is a secure operational database, used for data entry and transaction reporting. It has five modules: Incident Investigation, Case Management, Employee Health, Health and Safety, and Early Intervention/Return to Work.

Outcomes:

Since the WHITE(TM) database was first introduced into BC in 2004, it has tracked the health of 84,318 healthcare workers (120,244 jobs), representing 35,927 recorded incidents, resulting in 18,322 workers’ compensation claims. Currently, four of BC’s six healthcare regions are tracking and analyzing incidents and the health of healthcare workers using WHITE(TM), providing OHSAH and healthcare stakeholders with comparative performance indicators on workplace health and safety. A number of scientific manuscripts have also been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Conclusion:

The WHITE(TM) database has been very useful for descriptive epidemiological studies, monitoring health risk factors, benchmarking, and evaluating interventions.

Keywords:

Healthcare; surveillance; occupational health; evidence; evaluation; health and safety

Healthcare workers (HCWs) face numerous ergonomic stressors: patient lifting and transfers leading to upper extremity injuries; needlestick injuries and splashes increasing exposure to blood/body fluids (BBF), HIV, hepatitis B, and C viruses; exposures to chemical agents; work-related stress; and workplace violence.1-4 Injury rates in the healthcare industry in BC have been consistently higher than the average in the province.5 In 2006, the healthcare and social assistance sector accepted 12,419 workers’ compensation claims which resulted in 297,491 days lost from work and $52,397,554 in claims costs.5 The aging of staff and patients, high workloads, staff shortages, the mobile nature of the workforce, and complex work environments are among many other factors that make HCWs vulnerable to occupational hazards. 6,7 Yet, many work-related injuries may not be reported to compensation systems as a result of discouragement by supervisors and coworkers, job insecurity, legal work status, procedural complications, unawareness regarding the compensation system, seriousness of injuries, and social stigma.8-12 Additionally, workers’ compensation does not accept all filed claims.10,13

The surveillance of work-related injuries and illnesses of HCWs is important for health facility managers, occupational health, and safety professionals, and researchers to develop injury/illness prevention policies. Such a system involves the identification and characterization of a variety of work-related exposures and stressors that include chemical, biological and physical agents, ergonomic hazards, and job stress.14 The surveillance of occupational injury makes it possible to estimate the size of a problem; characterize injury trends; design, implement and evaluate preventive programs; improve knowledge of injury among health professionals, policy-makers, and the public; and identify research needs.15 Workers’ compensation claims data represent an important source of information on work-related injuries.16 In addition to workers’ compensation claims data, other surveillance methods have been explored,17-22 none of which have fully linked the gap between predictors of injury and the resulting costs.

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