Healthcare workers are constantly exposed to a variety of safety and health hazards. This risk has significantly increased due to the ongoing pandemic and the lack of preparation of the healthcare industry, further amplified by the high transmission rate of the disease.
Healthcare workers are the most valuable resources in the world as they are the ones who deliver care to people from all walks of life. They are the primary caretakers who put extreme efforts into ensuring that the patients recover.
However, do we ever stop and wonder if our healthcare workers are healthy? Do they enjoy healthier lives than their patients? It may seem that healthcare workers are immune to illnesses, but the accurate picture is quite the opposite. From being exposed to radiation and disease-causing organisms to severe burnouts, healthcare workers require our support as much as we need theirs.
Healthcare workers are unsung heroes, and the following reasons are enough to highlight the importance of providing them with the best health support.
1. Occupational health and safety of health workers:
From the outside, it may seem that doctors and nurses are superheroes and that no prevailing disease can affect them. But the truth is that our healthcare workers are always vulnerable to not only infectious diseases but to various occupational health hazards as well. For instance, the ongoing pandemic is the perfect example of why our healthcare workers need health support.
Not only are they at a greater risk of infection, but they’ve been asked to work in extreme conditions such as long working hours, lack of protective gear, public violence, burnout, and mental stress.
Taking the services of an occupational health and safety specialist is one of the best and most effective ways to support health workers. These specialists ensure workplace safety and design preventive programs aimed at protecting the livelihood of healthcare workers.
Other than that, the following are a few more steps that we can take to ensure complete health support and safety for health workers:
- Develop national occupational health and safety policies for health.
- Design and implement guidelines, codes, and standards of practice on occupational health and safety of health workers.
- Officers with authority should be appointed at both the national and facility levels to safeguard and regulate occupational health, safety, and workers’ support.
- With appropriate workers and management representation, intersectoral collaboration on health workers and patient safety should be strengthened in line with all occupational groups.
- National regulations for health workers’ occupational health and safety should be reviewed and upgraded when necessary to ensure their health protection and support.
2. Risk of mental health problems:
Health workers are typically more exhausted and stressed due to the nature of their work. However, during a public health emergency like a pandemic, the situation worsens due to extraordinary working conditions and lack of support.
With the feeling of being abandoned by the system and constantly being subjected to discomfort and violence due to public unrest, health workers experience extreme mental exhaustion and distress. Frontline health workers such as doctors, nurses, physicians, etc., can manifest poor mental health in numerous ways, such as depressive disorders and high levels of burnout.
Therefore, the first step we can take to support health workers is to acknowledge that they need help and support. We should realize that health workers are most affected psychologically and emotionally by what they experience during work.
It is unrealistic to assume that health workers are immune to the loss, pain, and suffering they witness all day. What the authorities and public can do in this regard is to express appreciation at every step of the process. The hospital management should take the following steps to support the mental well-being of health workers:
- Counseling, therapy, and support groups should be readily available and improved for the mental well-being of health workers.
- The government should impose a zero-tolerance approach against violence in healthcare facilities.
- Establish fair policies to ensure appropriate working hours, deployments, and enough rest breaks to minimize administrative burden.
- Maintain an open communication culture along with providing insurance for work-related risks.
3. Exposure to physical and biological hazards:
One of the most significant risks of working as a health worker is the danger of being exposed to biological and physical hazards. Outbreaks such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic have put health workers and their families at an unprecedented level of risk.
However, increasing reports of various illnesses and attacks among the frontline workers fighting against the pandemic are concerning factors. According to an Amnesty International report, about 7000 health workers have died worldwide from COVID-19 in an attempt to help people.
Apart from biological and psychological dangers, health workers are also at a high risk of physical hazards. The increased use of personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves has led to increased stress and other dermatological conditions.
According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1000 health workers die annually due to occupational HIV, which is preventable with proper measures and health support.
Health workers require protection against workplace hazards as much as any other professionals. The following steps could be taken to ensure health workers safety and support:
- Pay special attention to the education of those who work at different healthcare industry levels and put efforts into preventive programs like vaccinations.
- Ensure that the health workers are healthy and trained adequately in line with prioritizing occupational health.
- Supply the healthcare workforce with resources to prevent harmful exposure to biohazards, chemicals, radiation, and injury.
- Ensure the availability of high-quality PPE at all times, along with improving environmental services such as disinfection, sanitation, water, and hygiene.
The healthcare industry is the backbone of our society, and health workers are the real heroes. These individuals invest their energies, knowledge, services, and resources to ensure that people like us are healthy and safe.
We should pay equal attention to the problems faced by health workers today, including mental health problems such as depression, burnout, stress, and insomnia. To support health workers’ health, working environments should be improved while adequate policies should be in place to reduce work-related stress, exposure to diseases, violence, and improving occupational health.