The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 19% growth in healthcare jobs through 2024, with more than two million new jobs for physicians, registered nurses, and healthcare support occupations such as home health aides and physical therapists. Moreover, home health care, according to the BLS, is the fastest growing sector in the health care industry, offering tremendous opportunities to providers and the insurance agents and brokers who specialize in this niche.
With the increasing complexity and rigor of tasks provided in the home care environment, and the increasing number of frail elderly that make up this patient population, it is important to identify risk factors that affect employee health and safety in this setting. This is particularly so because home health care workers have a higher incidence of injury compared to other health care and human services employees. In fact, the injury rate in home care settings is about 50% higher than that in hospitals, cites the BLS. By examining the various exposures involved in a home care setting, insurance agents and brokers along with their clients/insureds can help providers prevent on-the-job injuries and illnesses and improve their Workers’ Compensation risk profile. In addition, the negative consequences of a hazardous workplace impact the delivery of health care services, which includes deterioration in the quality of care provided, as well as higher health care worker turnover rates or career abandonment. These factors contribute to the increased cost for a home health care provider beyond its insurance program.
Occupational Hazards in Home Health Care
Let’s take a look at the principal occupational exposures home health care workers face:
- Physical hazards – workplace injuries: “slips, trips, falls, overexertion, back injury, temperature extremes; unhygienic conditions (including lack of water, unclean or hostile animals, and animal waste); long commutes from worksite to worksite, adding transportation-related risks.
- Psychological hazards – occupational stress, workplace violence, guns and other weapons; illegal drugs; verbal abuse and other forms of violence in the home or community.
- Biological hazards – infectious diseases, blood-borne pathogens, needle stick injury.
- Chemical hazards – hazardous drugs, cleaning and sterilizing agents.
What can be done to help your clients reduce these risks, improve worker safety and ultimately minimize or eliminate Workers’ Compensation claims?
- Be sure that the home health care agency conducts a thorough pre-visit hazard assessment. For example, assess the client/patient behavior, the home location (unsafe area, isolation, poor lighting, unlit parking, unsafe building), and the presence of dangerous items (weapons, vicious pets).
- Eliminate or reduce risks based on findings from the assessment. This may include everything from implementing a case declination/refusal policy if the residence is deemed unsafe to providing comprehensive ergonomic interventions on the use of appropriate equipment and training, to providing safe patient handling instructions and establishing a transportation policy that limits travel distance.
- Provide an effective communication system with employees to request immediate assistance if they become injured or ill. Be sure the communication involves one or more of the following: landline, cell phone, or two-way radio contact with designated person, and check-in points with other employees.
- Ensure employees are trained and educated. This includes implementing initial and annual training comprised of safety hazard recognition and prevention, and reviewing new safety issues identified throughout the previous year. Training, for example, should include:
- Use of ergonomic equipment and techniques to prevent musculoskeletal disorders
- Slip and fall prevention
- Information on latex allergies
- Standard precautions with all blood and potentially infectious materials
- How to identify stressors and techniques on reducing stress
- How to recognize violent or aggressive behavior and how to defuse an angry patient
- What to do if the employees feel uncomfortable about a patient’s community or if they believe that they are in danger
- How to identify verbal abuse and what to do about it
- Safe driving skills
Employees should also be trained in reporting any potential hazards that may exist.
In addition to establishing a strong risk management program that puts safety first for home health care employees, evaluate an insured’s current Workers’ Compensation policy and all related documentation, including the agency’s experience modification worksheet, payroll audits, and loss-sensitive rating adjustments, to see where improvements can be made and where problems or miscalculations may exist. Also important is making sure there is a strong Return to Work program in place to assist employees in getting back on the job as soon as they are able. The employer will save the value of a lost earning capacity claim in helping an employee return to work, which will serve to reduce the cost of Workers’ Compensation claims.
Manchester Specialty can assist you in securing an excellent Workers’ Compensation insurance plan for your home health care clients. Our insurance partner carriers also have a variety of loss control and prevention resources for our program policyholders. Your clients will benefit by ultimately gaining a healthier, more productive workforce, which will reduce their claims frequency and severity and help keep insurance and health care costs in line. For more information about our products and services, please contact us at 855.972.9399.