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Respiratory safety for health care workers

Many Colorado health care workers know that the rate of injuries and illnesses that occur during work in the health care industry are almost twice as high as the rate of illnesses and injuries in private industry overall. In 2013, for example, there were approximately 58,000 injuries and illnesses recorded by U.S. hospitals; this amounted to 6.4 injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time health care employees. To reduce injuries and illnesses, OSHA updated instructions for preventing hazards.

One area that OSHA was focusing on was preventing exposure to tuberculosis. This respiratory disease kills about 1.5 million people every single year. In 2013, 383 new TB cases in health care workers were reported. Other respiratory hazards include severe acute respiratory syndrome, rubeola and varicella.

Part of the problem is that respiratory protection equipment is often only used for patients who are in isolation due to certain risks. However, there are emerging respiratory hazards, such as Ebola, that demonstrate the importance of health care workers being prepared when it comes to respiratory safety. To assist with the education and protection of health care workers, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a toolkit that will help staff and employers protect themselves against both major and minor respiratory illnesses.

Health care workers who are injured on the job or who develop an occupational illness may be eligible to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits under their employer's insurance policy. An attorney can often be of assistance in documenting that the injury or illness was job-related.

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