A report by Public Citizen found nurses, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants suffer more musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other field, and it's estimated it costs more than $7 billion annually for healthcare back injuries alone.
"Most Americans are not aware that hospitals and other medical facilities are actually the most frequent site for workplace injuries," Dr. L. Toni Lewis, head of the healthcare division of the Service Employees International Union, who advised Public Citizen on the report.
"This is an issue that affects so many front-line workers and their patients -- nurses, radiologists, physical therapists -- women and men who are trying to meet the needs of their patients safely and effectively. The current patchwork approach is not working for workers."
In 2010, healthcare employers reported 653,900 workplace injuries and illnesses, about 152,000 more than the next most-afflicted industry sector -- manufacturing. The construction industry is the subject of the most inspections, Lewis said. Although healthcare workers outnumber construction workers more than 2-to-1, OSHA conducts just one-twentieth as many inspections of healthcare facilities as construction sites, the report said.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor, acknowledged to Public Citizen that healthcare safety problems need to be addressed.
"It is unacceptable that the workers who have dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related injury and illness," he said.
In response to questions asked by Public Citizen for the report, OSHA said it did not have the resources to develop certain standards.
Congress has allocated $535 million to OSHA, a budget woefully inadequate to oversee the 7 million job sites in its purview, Public Citizen said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4,693 deaths in 2011, 146 more than in 2010. Most occur in a handful of sectors representing the most fatalities. Since 1992, fishermen have had the highest fatality rate of all occupations, but miners suffered the most number of deaths. Healthcare has the most injuries.