Hospital injuries rise

By Kiri Gillespie

Muscular injuries among Tauranga Hospital staff are on the rise with a union boss claiming the increase is a result of under-pressure workers having to cut corners.

Staff have also reported exposure to biological factors, contact with electricity, being bitten or stung by an animal, insect or spider, and contact with needle sticks, blood and bodily fluids.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board health and safety reports released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act reveal the number of people suffering muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects or people increased from four in 2011 to 39 in 2012.

Despite the increase in injury from these tasks, the number of muscular stress cases while performing other duties dropped from 61 in 2011 to 34 in 2012. The health board says there was a change in recording in 2012 with muscular stress categories being separated after previously being combined. However, the combined number of injuries in this area was still higher than the previous year.

The number of people being hit, struck or bitten by a person more than doubled from six people in 2011 to 15 in 2012.

Service and Food Workers Union industry leader for public service workers Jill Ovens claimed the increase in muscular injuries was most likely the result of staff "cutting corners".

"They sometimes took shortcuts that resulted in injuries and why they did that was the pressure of workers being asked to do more than what was appropriate at that time," Ms Ovens said.

The union has just completed a nation-wide safety campaign working with hospital cleaning staff and found strains and sprains a common complaint.

"We concluded that the workers did understand [health and safety] but did not always do what they should do," she said.

"There was a need for better training of supervisors so they understood the health and safety responsibilities."

District Health Board employee health and safety service manager Ted Harper said there was improved awareness surrounding the need to report assaults even if minor injuries occurred.

"This has subsequently resulted in more reporting."

Mr Harper was unable to respond to the union's claim of staff using shortcuts under pressure but said the drop in other instances of muscular stress was due to the change in recording in 2012.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith said the union was concerned about the increase in assaults.

"It's reprehensible that anyone would attack a nurse in the course of doing their duty, but we know these things happen.

"We know ED [emergency department] is a highly emotive and stressful environment where alcohol or drug-fuelled incidents occur."

Needle stick injuries were worrying but recent figures were low compared to the 1990s when they were more prevalent. A total of 153 days' work were lost in 2012 due to the health and safety incidents, compared to 169 in 2011.

Action on workplace injuries

  • ACC is working on a WorkSafe New Zealand agency designed to transform the nation's workplace safety culture. ACC chief executive Scott Pickering said there was a growing awareness that high work-related injury rates required united action, with Government agencies, businesses and workers working towards the same goal. "Some of the main ways we can help are by providing businesses with workplace safety and injury management advice, supporting targeted injury prevention programmes and offering levy discounts linked to safety performance," Mr Pickering said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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