As with every vocation, there are positives and negatives to working as a home health care professional.
On the upside, you provide an invaluable service that improves the quality of life for the clients you serve.
As an added bonus, your skills are in high demand. Home healthcare is a rapidly growing industry. Per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment for home care providers is projected to grow 34% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
You also work with a diverse range of people and quickly increase your knowledge and expertise as you encounter unique situations. But there are risks to you and your clients, so knowing how to avoid them can help keep everyone safe.
Dangers for home health providers on the job range from challenges within the space where you deliver care to exposure to bloodborne pathogens. The key to assuring you remain injury-free (the better to serve your clients without interruption) is to understand potential dangers and stay one step ahead with a plan.
Here, we highlight a few of the most significant risks and the safety tips you can easily implement!
Lifting and Transferring Patients
For home healthcare professionals, a portion of work regularly involves transferring patients from one activity to another. The physical labor of pushing, pulling, and lifting another person mean possible injuries to your own back, knees and neck.
The home environment is unique as far as caregiving goes. A person’s house is not designed for patient care, meaning you might be missing equipment. Plus, the room is tight for the work you’re out to do.
Patients return from hospitalization sooner these days, too. They more often have short-term mobility issues while in recovery as a result. Perhaps you’ll struggle to move patients while working solo, particularly those who are physically larger than you are.
Patients need help with transfers for activities including:
- Bed to chair
- And bathroom assistance
Musculoskeletal damage can happen to caregivers with overexertion, particularly with tricky lifts and pivots in awkward positions. The repetition in the range of motion can have effects over time, too.
So, how do you stay ahead of the risks? Utilize all the tools and available to prevent injury. Specifically, you can avoid significant wear-and-tear on your body and keep your patient safe if you follow proper lifting and shifting procedures.
Ergonomic Solutions for the Home Healthcare Provider
Ergonomics has come a long way in helping people in the healthcare industry recently. Furniture, equipment, and tasks have been re-imagined to help people efficiently and safely work to care for patients.
Electrical and mechanical devices are available to assist with the hoist and transfer process, for instance. Other electrical devices like draw sheets, slide boards, rollers, slings, and belts are available, too.
Solutions to streamline tasks range from built-in weighing scales to rolling toileting or shower chairs and adjustable beds. Each home needs to be assessed separately to see which devices will work best in the space.
Bringing ergonomic devices into a person’s home can be a challenge. Good communication between the patient, family, and service provider will help make decisions for the needed adjustments.
As an in-home care professional, your job is to keep yourself and the patient safe. If you foresee any issues of mobility, discuss solutions with your employer to brainstorm ideas with you, the patient and the family.
Per CDC guidance, there are some even more basic tips to help reduce your risk of injury:
- Use ergonomic devices when available.
- Do not stand in one position while bending, twisting, and reaching to perform a task.
- When manually moving a patient, stand as close as possible to the patient without twisting your back. Keep your knees bent and feet apart, and avoid rotating the spine while in motion, and make sure one foot is in the direction of the move.
- Use a friction-reducing device such as a slip sheet whenever possible. Using gentle rocking motions can also reduce exertion while moving a patient.
- Pulling a patient up in bed is easier when the head of the bed is flat or down. Raise the patients knees and encourage the patient to push if possible, to help with a transfer.
Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Injuries
Working with sharps expose healthcare professionals to potential dangers of bloodborne pathogens, including Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV. Stabs from contaminated needles and sharps such as scalpels are the primary sources of accidental infection.
Add in human error and distractions that come with an in-home environment such as family, pets, and clutter, and it’s clear that home healthcare providers must be extra-diligent to remain safe from jabs.
It is vital to understand and plan for working with sharps. Take these steps to stay safe while working with your patients:
- Participate in your employer’s blood pathogen program.
- Educate the patient and family in the proper disposal of sharps.
- Avoid using needles whenever safer alternatives are available.
- Help your employer select safe sharp devices whenever possible.
- Refrain from recapping or bending contaminated needles.
- Before a procedure, plan for the disposable of contaminated materials in advance.
- Bring your own leak-proof and puncture-resistant sharps containers with you on visits.
- Secure used sharp containers while in transport.
- Report any needle and sharp injuries.
- If you are jabbed by a sharp, immediately wash the area with soap and water.
- If fluid is released in your eyes, nose, or mouth, flush those areas with water.
Other Safety Hazards
Working in someone’s home can be an unpredictable environment for a healthcare professional. You bring your expertise into a space that is not usually suited for the work you do (or the needs of your client). The area may be tight and filled with clutter. There may not be ramps and grab bars to help with lifts and transfers.
You also might have to deal with challenged family dynamics. The neighborhood could be dangerous for all you know.
Until you’ve established a relationship with your client, you must be vigilant about the condition and nature of his or her needs for care, the area of town, and the state of the home.
Environmental Hazards: On your first visits with a client, be sure to note any issues that you feel pose a threat to the work you need to do. Have a discussion with your employer and with the client about this subject.
Be organized with your materials and prepare for the unexpected by having ample PPE and other supplies like a hazard disposal container. Ask that pets be kept away during visits and discuss any issues of poor hygiene or noncompliance for safety with your employer.
Violence: Protect yourself from ever becoming a victim by going to home visits with a plan. Per the AJMC, “while 75% of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults occur annually in healthcare settings, only 30% of nurses and 26% of emergency department physicians have reported incidents of violence.”
Make sure you’re informed of the patient’s medical conditions and mental status before your initial visit. Ask about any history of aggression and learn if there are any family dynamics in the home you should know about, and also if there are firearms in the home.
At every visit, be aware of the exits and trust your judgement if you feel unsafe. If you encounter any physical or verbal abuse, or your client is inebriated, remain calm and leave and then inform your employer immediately.
Travel to unsafe neighborhoods requires planning in advance as well. Travel during the daytime, when possible, and park in well-lit highly visible areas where you can see all around you.
When you drive in new areas, be sure to leave your windows up and doors locked. Leave all your supplies in the trunk of your vehicle, and let your employer know your route and schedule for each day’s visits.
Prepare and Be Aware
Your work as an in-home healthcare professional is a vital service. You are making a difference in the lives of others and building a career with paths to other opportunities.
You want to enjoy the rewards of doing your job well and, under optimal conditions, to be the most effective. By preparing for possible hazards in advance, you reduce the chance of ever suffering from them.