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Female workplace injuries on the rise: WorkSafeBC report

Workplace injuries among females are increasing, and according to a new WorkSafeBC report, rates are highest among health care and social services workers.

According to the report, the health and social assistance sector accounted for 33 per cent of female worker injuries between 2001 and 2010. Accommodations, food and leisure services were the second highest, accounting for 16 per cent of injuries.

Work related fatalities were also highest among health and social service workers, accounting for almost one in five deaths.

For one sector of predominantly female workers, this information isn’t new or surprising.

"Nurses have high injury rates along with the rest of health care and social services workers, the majority of those are musculoskeletal injuries, which include shoulder, back, repetitive strain injuries of the wrists," says Debra McPherson, president of the B.C. Nurses Union.

McPherson gives two main reasons for high injury rates among nurses: staffing shortages and a lack of ergonomic equipment.

"Hospitals are overcrowded, running at over-capacity,” she says, using Vernon as an example. “Last week, we had 192 patients in a hospital with 146 beds and staffing for 146 patients."

"What we have is a situation where the workload is high, the risk of strain is high, people are doing repetitive tasks and they’re doing it very quickly with no time to recover," she says.

McPherson blames the Ministry of Health’s “pay-for-performance” funding model.

"It’s like turning up the speed on a conveyer belt," she says, "where the faster they can get people in and out of emergency and in and out of hospital, the more reimbursement they get."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson says the ministry’s funding model isn’t only focused on reducing wait times.

"Patient-focused funding does not focus purely on activity, but rather the broader context of overall performance, including quality. In short, quality is part of what we want to be paying for," he says in an email, adding that "no caregiver is going to cut corners to discharge patients prematurely or speed up the surgery."

McPherson says the push to speed up hospital visits has meant more overtime for nurses and other health practitioners.

Limited funding has also translated into limited injury prevention initiatives, says McPherson.

"One of the things we’ve asked was that new facilities be fitted with appropriate numbers of lifting device so nurses and other health care workers don’t have to lift. Often these initiatives are limited by budget, however, and many of our facilities are old and it costs a lot to retrofit them so they’re not being retrofitted," she says using bathrooms as an example.

"There often won’t be lifting devices in bathrooms or bathrooms are so small that two people couldn’t go in to assist a patient who falls, so one person is left in there doing it by themselves which exposes them to a greater risk of injury."

"We take staff and patient safety seriously,” says the ministry spokesperson. “The ministry and our health authorities are working hard to ensure we have a sufficient number of nurses, including registered nurses, in our province now and in the future."

"Our overall nursing strategy, has helped us increase the number of practicing nurses in B.C. to nearly 44,000 -- over 35,000 of which are registered nurses," he says.

He says a Health Sector Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee was recently created to develop strategies to improve workplace safety.

"As well, we’re investing $37 million in provincial health, safety and disability-management initiatives through the Health and Safety in Action Project, initiated through WorkSafeBC."

McPherson says the disability management program was negotiated at the last round of employment bargaining. "However, that’s at the end, that’s downstream, the real work needs to be done upstream in terms of prevention. And I think it’s absolutely related to the physical environment and staffing," she says.

Ainslie Cruickshank is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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