The healthcare sector in Ireland is a significant employment sector.
- There were 227,000 persons employed in health and social work in 2009 (CSO indicative data).
- Nurses are the main occupational group, representing one-quarter of all employees in the sector.
- The public health service accounts for approximately two-thirds of all those employed in the sector.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has identified the main risk factors and related health problems in the healthcare sector, they include the following:
- Musculoskeletal loads – poor working postures, heavy loads.
- Biological agents – micro-organisms, viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B, contaminated blood.
- Chemical substances – including disinfectants, anaesthetic gases and antibiotics. They may be harmful to the skin, or the respiratory system; they may be carcinogenic.
- Radiological hazards.
- Changing shifts, work rhythms and night work.
- Violence from members of the public.
- Other factors contributing to stress – traumatic situations and factors, the organisation of work and relations with colleagues.
- Accidents at work – falls, cuts, needle punctures, electric shocks etc.
Risk assessment and effective health and safety management are the key to preventing and reducing healthcare workers exposure to work hazards.