BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Occupational Hazards- Healthcare Workers



Health care workers are often at increased risks of infections due to their immediate work environment. The potential risk to their health is an important public health issue that is particularly neglected in many developing countries. The 2006 World Health Report-Working Together for Health reported a severe health workforce crisis In fifty-seven (57) countries- most of them in Africa and Asia. In Nigeria for example, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Dr Stella Adadevoh and some other health care workers lost her lives while trying to prevent Ebola spread from Port Harcourt to Lagos and other parts of the country- sadly without receiving a national honour or credit for their efforts and bravery. It is a costly price for health workers to lose their lives in the course of their service but unfortunately, the list of healthcare workers that have lost their lives in a similar fashion is unending. There are various kinds of hazards to which health workers are exposed-they include, Biological hazards which is a group of hazards including infectious agents like Ebola mentioned above, HBV, HIV etc. Other forms of hazards can be physical hazards, chemical hazards and psychosocial hazards.

Biological hazards such as infectious agents pose serious risk to the lives of every health care personnel. These workers may be exposed through inhalation, contact with bodily fluids and more importantly, needle stick injuries. In fact, the WHO global burden of disease from sharps injuries to health-care workers showed that 37% of the hepatitis B among health workers was the result of occupational exposure. Sometimes, these are due to either mistakes from the health worker or poor disposal of wastes.

Health workers are also affected by physical hazards including fire and radiation as well as work related violence just like industrial workers. Fire hazards have been reduced due to widespread public health measures but there are still risks of harmful radiation exposure as radiation is a part of diagnostic medicine. Work related violence is a common problem in developing countries- studies have shown that over 90% health workers especially nurses, have been abused physically or verbally.

Chemical hazards from toxic substances used in routine medical practice mostly result in injury unlike biological hazards that can lead to death. Also, allergy from latex gloves is an important form of chemical hazard. Similar to biological hazards, they can also be due to mistakes from the health worker and poor disposal of wastes. Finally, there are psychosocial hazards that affect the mental health of health workers. These are mostly due to very long work time leading to physical and emotional exhaustion, low pay in developing countries and stress induced illnesses such as hypertension. These emotional hazards inflict invisible wounds that reduce the efficiency and efficacy of health workers. This is then reflected in the poor quality of care and health systems experienced by the public at large.

The WHO and other international health organisations continue to advocate for better occupational health through practices like use of post exposure prophylaxis, vaccination of health workers, increase in wages and trainings to prevent occupational hazards and its consequences in the health care system.

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