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What the Ebola scare has revealed about workplace safety

Ebola has become big news in Tennessee after recent developments in Texas and Liberia. The recent cases of Ebola, a disease that is not usually encountered in America, have captured the attention of the nation and focused it upon the outdated and insufficient protections against blood-borne diseases in the health care system.

Although the current chances of catching Ebola are vanishingly small, the controversy illustrates that health care and social assistance careers are already among the most hazardous jobs in America. Approximately 653,900 on-the-job injuries were reported in these industries in 2010. This is a higher rate of injury than any other private sector job in the nation.

Health care workers run a wide variety of risks beyond simple exposure to infectious agents. They often have to work with radiation or toxic chemicals. Their daily work may involve any number of extremely sharp and fragile objects. They are often required to lift some of the heaviest weights in any industry, as a patient may easily be more than two hundred pounds of extremely delicate and unwieldy mass. Even worse, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is substantially unable to inspect American health care workplaces for safety issues. OSHA simply has far too few inspectors to cover the 7 million workplaces in America. There are thousands of hospitals under OSHA's jurisdiction, but they were only able to inspect 138 of them in one representative year.

Any time a health care worker contracts a wound or debilitating disease from their place of employment, it may be considered a workplace injury, and they are eligible to collect workers compensation while they heal and recuperate. Permanent disability that results from such a disease or ailment is also eligible for compensation. An attorney may be able to brief an injured worker about to their rights under the law.

Source: EHS Today, "Ebola Outbreak Shows Need for Stronger Protection for Health Care Workers", Sandy Smith, October 17, 2014

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