Home health care workers encounter many safety risks while on the job. Controlling these safety risks can often be difficult, as the work environment is typically the patient’s home.
A patient’s home may be unsanitary, exposing the home health care worker to a variety of health risks including infections and diseases. Dangerous pets, cluttered rooms and poor air quality are a few other contributors to unsafe working conditions. In addition to the uncontrolled environment, workers may also experience violence while visiting a home. Research shows the majority of workplace violence incidents are verbal, but others may include domestic violence, assault and battery, sexual harassment or stalking.
A recent study shows that home health care services will be the fastest-growing detailed industry, and employment is predicted to increase by almost 60 percent between 2012 and 2022. As greater numbers of older people seek care that allows them to stay in their homes and maintain their independence, the need for workers in home health care services is expected to expand. With the number of home health care employees growing, it is important to discuss the risks and safety measures you can take to prevent issues from arising. When entering a patient’s home for the first time, the key is to be proactive. Always be aware of your surroundings and develop a plan for both personal safety and medical emergencies.
Mobile App Security Solutions
Home health care workers and their employers are constantly concerned with safety while in the field. The many unpredictable variables of visiting a home make the home health care career very risky. It is essential for employers to develop a plan of action and provide tools for workers to protect their safety.
As technology advances and mobile phone capabilities expand, security options have become available through mobile apps. Apps for home health care workers provide access to features such as alerts, alarms and duress codes. With the STANLEY Guard Personal Safety App, users can control how alerts are activated in the event of an emergency, but either shaking the phone or pressing a button on their wrist or name badge. They can also choose to enable their phone to emit loud alarm tones with strobe lighting to draw attention or distract an attacker. If a home care employee activates an alert, regardless of where they are, audio and video clips from their mobile phone will be automatically sent to their employer’s Security Operations Center, or our STANLEY 24/7 monitoring center. In addition, GPS location information is sent immediately so that emergency responders can be dispatched to help protect the employee. Home care workers can also have the emergency alert sent to a list of emergency contacts on their phone. A personal safety app can create a safer environment for employees and improve security response procedures of an organization.
We have compiled a list of the top ten health care worker safety tips to stay healthy and safe while visiting patients.
- Prevent Injury During Patient Handling
When physically handling a patient, keep in mind best practices for lifting and transferring a patient to prevent a job-related injury. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, health care workers most commonly experience sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal injuries due to lifting and moving patients. Moving patients can be a challenge, especially if you are trying to lift a patient by yourself. If the patient has a transfer system or assistive device, utilize this device prior to relying on your own strength. Also, check with your health agency to see if they offer a buddy system for lifting patients that are heavy or difficult to transfer. If so, take full advantage of this option.
- Prevent Pet-Related Injuries
Even the nicest of dogs can become aggressive or protective of their owners when they feel threatened. Here are a few preliminary warning signs to look out for when meeting a patient’s dog:
- Stiff body
- Tucked tail
- Raised hackles
If the dog displays any of these behaviors, consider asking the patient to remove the pet from the area during the visit. Even if the dog is not a threat, pets can often distract you from your main focus, the patient.
- Prevent Driving-Related Injuries
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) driving to various clients means health care workers have a higher risk of car accidents. Here are a few home health aide safety tips the NIOSH recommends for preventing driving-related injuries:
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Bring the car to a stop before using your cell phone.
- Try not to eat, drink or adjust the radio while driving.
- Don’t drive if you’re over-tired.
- Determine the route you’ll take before leaving, or use a GPS.
- Check and service your vehicle on a regular basis.
- Make sure the gas tank is at least a quarter full.
- Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle that contains a flashlight, batteries, flares, a blanket and bottled water.
It is also important to be aware of your surroundings if you are driving in unfamiliar or dangerous areas. You are at risk for getting lost or encountering a criminal.
To protect your associates and gain peace of mind while they are traveling to and from appointments, consider an enterprise-wide personal safety solution. The STANLEY Guard Personal Safety App provides a direct line to security assistance if the need ever arises.
If a home health care worker feels unsafe, they can simply shake their phone or push a wearable button to alert security authorities. Experienced STANLEY monitoring specialists or your security operations center receive the alert, along with the device’s GPS location, audio/video clips and user’s profile info and verifies the emergency. The monitoring center dispatches local emergency responders to respond to the incident and gather evidence. A safety solution can create a safer environment for your employees.
- Prevent Violence on the Job
Due to the uncontrolled environment, home health care workers are more vulnerable to workplace violence, including verbal abuse, stalking, and assault. According to NIOSH, forms of workplace violence include verbal abuse by the client, family members or other members of the community. Verbal abuse can be subtle, like asking for help outside the job’s scope, or it could be more obvious, like making complaints about a worker’s appearance or threatening harm.
In addition, NIOSH recommends employers should:
- Develop a zero-tolerance policy for all incidents.
- Instruct workers on how to both recognize and prevent violence in the workplace.
- Investigate all reports of workplace violence.
- Partner with the police to determine neighborhoods where special precautions may be needed and pass that information along to workers.
As an employer, you can provide home health care workers with resources and tools to stay safe. Using a tool like a personal safety app can in their compliance efforts with OSHA 3148-04R 2015 guideline on Workplace Violence Prevention in field work settings. Having appropriate safety measures in place can help ensure your employees are well prepared for any danger they may encounter while visiting patients.
- Handle Unsafe Working Conditions
There are many different safety and sanitary risks home health care workers face when visiting patients’ homes. A worker may encounter a home environment that is unsanitary, has poor air quality and lacks safe drinking water. According to NIOSH, these unsanitary conditions can cause contamination of medical supplies and equipment, as well as spread disease and infection.
If a home is unsanitary, NIOSH recommends:
- Use clean pads with plastic on one side and place them beneath equipment.
- Bring only the necessary equipment into the house so pests infest fewer items.
- Don’t put items like bags on carpeted floors or upholstered furniture.
- Wear disposable coveralls.
- Wear non-latex disposable gloves and use hand sanitizer.
There may also be instances in which the patient’s home is very hot or very cold. If the house feels overheated, the NIOSH recommends asking to open windows or use fans. If you are caring for a patient in an uncomfortably warm home, stay hydrated. If the home is too cold, try changing the thermostat. If for some reason the thermostat cannot be changed, NIOSH recommends asking your employer to contact social service agencies to help the patient.
It is important the patient have access to safe drinking water. If you find the home has no running water or water that is poor quality, NIOSH recommends asking your employer to contact social service agencies to help the patient. Prior to entering a home, keep these points in mind to prevent exposure to unsafe conditions.
- Prevent Occupational Stress
NIOSH defines job stress as the harmful, physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker. Home health care workers encounter stressors related to their working environment, in addition to some of the same job stressors as other health care workers. Some of the stressors endured by home health care workers are:
- Work that is not directly supervised
- Work that is generally done alone
- Travel through unsafe neighborhoods
- Alcohol or drug abusers, family arguments, dangerous dogs or heavy traffic
Employers and employees can be proactive when it comes to preventing and managing stress. NIOSH provides a list of recommendations:
- For employers
- Provide supervision to support staff.
- Develop policies and procedures that ensure workers’ safety.
- Provide access to an employee assistance program or another method of support.
- For employees
- Come up with coping strategies and remain positive. For example, consider how a stressful situation will improve your work as a health care worker.
- Work on your time management and planning skills by participating in safety training for home health care workers.
- Prevent the Spread of Infectious Diseases
Home health care workers are susceptible to infectious diseases during home visits. Patients may also be vulnerable to infection if the worker has an infectious disease. NIOSH recommends employers implement an infection control and prevention program to protect home health care workers and their patients. A few recommendations for workers:
- Comply with your employer’s infection-control plan.
- Use personal protective equipment such as exam gloves and respiratory protection.
- Teach patients, family members and home visitors about cough etiquette, hand hygiene and social distancing.
For an employer, if it is known that a patient has a disease, which can be spread through the air, utilize infection-control and respiratory protection plans for the patient and the worker, such as:
- Inform the worker on how to increase ventilation in the area — for example, by opening windows.
- Train staff on using respiratory protection.
- Prevent Needlesticks and Other Sharps Injuries
Health care workers are often exposed to needles when caring for patients. Home health care workers are responsible for the use and disposal of sharps equipment that they use in the patient’s home. NIOSH says needles and sharps that are contaminated could inject health care workers with blood containing pathogens, which could pose a serious risk. While some immunizations can protect against viruses, workers must be aware of what they can do to prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens. NIOSH provides recommendations for both employers and employees:
- For employers
- Provide a program on bloodborne pathogens that meets OSHA standards.
- Don’t use needle devices if there are safe and effective alternatives are available.
- Use needle devices that have safety features and determine which features are most effective for workplace tasks.
- Create an exposure-control plan, and make sure to evaluate it on a yearly basis.
- Analyze injuries in the workplace to determine hazards and patterns.
- For employees
- Participate in a bloodborne pathogens program.
- Don’t use needles if safe and effective alternatives are available.
- Help your employer find needle devices that include safety features, and then use them.
- Don’t recap or bend contaminated needles.
- Before you begin a procedure, plan for how you will safely handle and dispose of needles. Promptly dispose of any used needle devices or potentially contaminated sharps in the designated containers.
- Carry sharps containers with you that are standard-labeled, leak-proof and puncture-resistant, as these may not be available at the home.
- Make sure any used sharps containers are secured during transport to keep them from spilling.
- Report any needlesticks or sharps-related injuries right away to receive care.
- Make sure to follow precautions, infection prevention and hygiene practices.
If you experience a needlestick injury while caring for a patient, wash the area, report the incident to your supervisor and immediately seek medical treatment.
- Take Care of Yourself While Taking Care of Others
Caring for others can be both stressful and rewarding, so home health care workers must take care of themselves on and off the job. The Department of Health of Human Services and the CDC provides a list of tips and strategies to stay healthy:
- Find an exercise you like to do.
- Eat healthy.
- Talk things through with a friend or counselor.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Stay up to date on your vaccinations.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Find time to unwind and relax.
- Focus on Personal Safety
While visiting a home, be mindful of your surroundings. If the home is in poor condition, the floors and ceiling may be unstable, which could result in injury. Watch your step when navigating through the home. Floors may be slippery from spills or wet from bathing. If children or pets are present, objects may be scattered throughout the house that can be a tripping hazard for both the worker and patient. If moving a patient, have a plan and ensure the path is clear.