By Monica Mendoza
Caregivers come from all walks of life. There are professional caregivers and family caregivers. They work hard to care for those who cannot care for themselves. And yet, too often, it is the caregivers themselves who forget their own well-being. Some caregivers even find themselves encumbered with their own health issues and injuries.
Studies show that in 2015, over 170,000 incidents of documented illness or injury happened in the private nursing and caregiver industry. This translates to roughly 6.8 incidents per 100 workers. Clearly, caregiver injuries have become common and affect a significant percentage of healthcare workers. The most common injuries recorded are sprains and strains, cuts and punctures, fractures, soreness or pain, bruises, and multiple trauma.
These injuries are classified as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They affect the body’s joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons, particularly the bone structures that support limbs, which are the back and the neck. In order to address these injuries, The Hospital Patient and Healthcare Worker Injury Protection Act was created. It requires healthcare facilities to adopt practices that will reduce the injuries of healthcare workers, especially for those who have to move and lift patients.
Employers of healthcare workers need to make sure that they create measures to avoid injuries. These are some of the activities and situations caregivers should try to steer clear from:
1. Doing Heavy Lifting
Caregivers need to support heavy weights whenever transferring supplies or moving a resident. MSDs occur when caregivers pull or strain their muscles or injure their tendons, ligaments, cartilage, or joints. Employers should make sure that caregivers are equipped with proper gear, like a back brace or weight belt to assist them with the load. Often, healthcare workers are discouraged from wearing these items because putting them on and taking them off can take up a bit of time and effort. However, employers can reinforce this policy to make sure that caregivers follow this rule. Employers can also provide the facility with patient lifts and slings to help lessen the impact of transferring patients or changing their position.
Another precaution that can be employed is to give caregivers the proper training and techniques for lifting. If the caregiver needs to bend down to assist a senior when eating or bathing, advise them to place themselves in a more comfortable position, such as squatting or sitting. They can also be taught to stretch every day to relieve muscle tightness and to make them more flexible.
2. Contact with Illness
Those that need care are often sick or weak. Caregivers often risk constant exposure to bacteria and viruses that may make them more susceptible to contracting illnesses. Also, exposure to blood and other bodily fluids increases a caregiver’s risk of getting sick.
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases is to practice frequent hand washing. Microbes and bacteria may be minimized, if not eliminated, through proper hand hygiene practices such as washing with water and soap and using hand sanitizer. Also, to prevent viruses from entering their bodies, workers may be required to wear surgical masks. Make sure that all staff are vaccinated regularly. And see to it that they get shots for common illnesses such as flu to prevent the occurrence of these diseases.
It is a reality that communities or homes that provide care may be understaffed due to limited budget. This means caregivers are often overworked — a state that could lead to health issues and illnesses caused by stress. These issues can take a toll on the employees’ physical and mental health, which could then result to lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and increased vulnerability to illnesses.
If it is not at all possible to increase the number of caregivers, one way to avoid overworking the employees is to provide them with regular breaks to rejuvenate themselves. They should be working regular shifts of 8 to 10 hours, and should not be required to be on call outside of the residence. If the caregiver works for over 10 hours, they may make more mistakes since they are too tired. When this happens, employees and residents become susceptible to injury or harm. Make sure that the caregivers are well-rested and ready for their shift.
Choosing a career in the healthcare industry may entail health risks. However, issues that come from heavy lifting, exposure to illnesses, and understaffing can be addressed to prevent further complications and burn outs. Policy enforcement, proper training and equipment, and care for caregivers can go a long way in preventing these common injuries.