Home healthcare industry loses $684 million to employee injuries

Home healthcare employee health and safety at a glance:

  • Subset of Ambulatory Health with 1.12 million workers
  • Extremely under-inspected by OSHA
  • Total injury and illness rate equal to the U.S. average
  • At least 140,780 work days lost from 10,480 lost-time (Days Away) injuries
  • $684 million lost to injuries, requiring over $3.5 billion in billing to offset

Healthcare workers represented approximately 12% of the 2011 U.S. workforce (126 million) and included 15.2 million professionals, technicians, support workers and others not directly providing patient care (i.e., maintenance and laundry). Steadily growing, the healthcare worker population already far exceeds that of the manufacturing sector (11.6 million). Home Health Care (NAICS 6216), a subset of Ambulatory Healthcare, reported a 2011 worker population of 1.12 million, second in that sector only to offices of physicians (2.4 million).

In FY2012, federal OSHA conducted 28 Home Healthcare inspections (0.06% of their total done), while state programs conducted 35 (0.06% of their total done). Though trending up, the numbers of inspections are very low for the workforce size. Based strictly on worker population, at 0.89% of the 2011 U.S. workforce (assuming no change in 2012) Home Healthcare would have experienced 917 of the 102,990 federal and state OSHA inspections conducted last year. They received only 6.9% of that amount.

Is the extremely low rate of inspections due to good safety performance? No. Although Ambulatory Health was the only healthcare sector to report an injury and illness total case rate (2.7 per 100 employees) less than the FY2011 U.S. average (3.8) for all industries, Home Healthcare reported a rate of 3.8, placing them right at average.

Home Healthcare suffered a reported 10,480 lost-time (Days Away) injuries in 2011. Their most frequently injured employee was a 45-54 year old female with 1-5 years on the job. She was on duty 2-4 hours between 801 a.m. and noon on Monday before being injured and most likely sprained or strained her back from a fall during patient handling.

Time lost from Days Away injuries was significant. Based on the lowest end of the ranges reported by BLS, Home Healthcare lost at least 140,780 work days in 2011 from their 10,480 DART-related
injuries. The median time was 10 days per injury, with 29.2% of those injured out for 31 days or more.

Loading the Days Away injury data into the OSHA “$afety Pays” calculator produces an estimate of the direct and indirect cost of those injuries along with the amount of additional sales needed (based on a given profit margin) to recover those losses: Home Healthcare spent $684 million, requiring over $3.5 billion in sales to offset (at reported 2010 profit of 19.4%). Of course these sales are actually patient billing, so everyone — employers, insurers, employees, and patients — ends up paying for injuries that largely should not be happening.

Losing $684 million and 140,780 work days to lost-time injuries was only a fraction of that lost by the larger healthcare industry, but the message remains the same: investing in safety culture pays off, and $684 million would buy Home Healthcare a lot of safety.

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