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Safety in the home: Keeping home healthcare workers out of harm’s way
The demand for home healthcare is booming—in fact, Health Canada estimates that there are around 100,000 personal support workers in Ontario alone. Demand is certain to continue rising across the country as Canada’s population ages.Those working in this growing field are not, however, without risk. Home healthcare workers see about a 50 percent higher rate of injury than those of their hospital counterparts. And the risks include anything from overexertion to car accidents to hostile pets. The unpredictability of home healthcare may deter some from working in this field, but for others, it’s the reason they go to work each day. Here are some tips you can share with your team to keep them safe.

The hazards of home healthcare
Home healthcare workers may come across a variety of hazards on the job. Here are some commonly faced safety concerns and precautions that can be taken to combat them.

  • Overexertion: One of the most common risks to home healthcare workers is back injury from overexertion. A buddy system that allows two workers to team up when having to move a heavy or hard-to-lift patient can help prevent this. If a buddy system isn’t possible, transfer systems and assistive transfer devices may be helpful. Be sure to communicate the importance of practicing proper body mechanics too—a badge lanyard with the simple imprinted message, “Lift with care,” serves as a great reminder and may do wonders to reduce back injury and strain. Keeping medical bags stocked with hot/cold packs and Tylenol® can also help combat back strain if it occurs.
  • Biological hazards: Exposure to blood-borne pathogens and biological hazardsmay be common in the home healthcare industry. Employees can keep safe by wearing protective equipment such as gloves and safety glasses when performing personal care or providing wound treatment. A detailed plan on how to prevent exposure and measures to take if it accidentally occurs should be posted in an easy-to-access location.
  • Unsanitary conditions: Some client homes may by unhygienic and can even contain pests or rodents. These conditions can contaminate medical supplies and equipment, and harbour disease and infection. If these conditions are present, equipment or supplies should be set on a clean pad and personal items such as purses or bags should be left in the car. Workers should keep their shoes on and wear disposable shoe covers if a client prefers shoes off in the house. Equipment should be wiped down with wet wipes before going back into the car. Wearing disposable gloves and keeping hand sanitizer available at all times can also prevent further infestation and the spread of infection and disease.
  • Pet dangers: In some instances, home healthcare workers face the threat of being bitten or otherwise injured by unrestrained animals. Some agencies even have policies requiring pets be kept away during visits. When workers are visiting a home with pets, it may be best they wait outside for pets to be restrained before entering. It may be helpful for them to communicate to the person being cared for that these precautions aren’t taken due to a dislike for their pets—after all, they may be a part of the family—but rather as a safety precaution that also allows the home healthcare worker to devote 100 percent of his or her attention to them.
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents: Since most home healthcare workers drive their cars from location to location, it is likely the most frequent activity performed each day, putting them at a higher risk for motor vehicle-related hazards. Taking simple measures like employing mandatory seatbelt use and implementing policies against using cell phones while driving can enhance safety. Providing workers with an auto safety kit and blanket is a good measure to prepare in the event of a breakdown or an accident.

Home healthcare can be a very fulfilling profession. And for many, the notion that each and every home visit provides a new and unique challenge is what keeps home healthcare workers coming to work each day. We hope these simple safety tips help keep your team out of harm’s way and into years of a rewarding and satisfying career.

Home Support Workers in the Continuum of Care for Older People.” Canadian Research Network for Care in the Community. Web. 21 Aug. 2013.

Maulgani, Megan. “Safety Tips for Home Healthcare Workers.” Monster.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.

“WorkCompCentral® Workers Compensation – Information, News, Training and More!” WorkCompCentral® Workers Compensation – Information, News, Training and More! N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

NIOSH Fast Facts Home Healthcare Workers.” Cdc.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

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