What Are the Causes of Work Stress & Disability in Health Workers?

Excessive workloads often cause both stress and injuries.
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Health care workers have high rates of both work stress and on-the-job injury, sometimes resulting in a long-term disability. Nurses, home health aids and other health care workers can reduce the likelihood of on-the-job injury by understanding its typical causes. The Americans With Disabilities Act can help those who have been injured to keep working.


    Workplace stress affects health care workers at a higher rate than the population in general. According to the BJC HealthCare employee assistance program website, 31 percent of all workers report high levels of workplace stress, compared to 45 percent of health care professionals and 67 percent of all nurse managers. Health care professionals have higher stress rates because they do physically and emotionally demanding work and are also exposed to a number of workplace dangers most workers never have to deal with.

Stress Causes

    Health care professionals often work long shifts and in some cases overnights. They must deal with emotionally extreme situations such as death and bereavement. They frequently have to interact with people suffering from a traumatic event or grieving a loss. Many health care workers have trouble balancing their obligations at work with their relationships outside work. Due to regulations requiring certain duties to be performed on a set schedule, health care workers have a harder time pacing themselves than workers in many other jobs. All of these factors contribute to the high levels of workplace stress in this profession.


    The most frequent non-fatal injury for health care workers of all types is a musculoskeletal injury. These injuries are so common among health care workers because the job often requires the worker to lift a heavy weight such as an injured patient or to twist into an unusual position to access a piece of medical equipment. Health care workers are also vulnerable to repetitive motion injuries when entering patient data or updating notes. Health care workers can also be injured by needle-handling accidents or being exposed to infections or allergens.


    If an injury prevents the employee from performing a regular daily activity over a sustained period of time, the employee may qualify as a disabled person under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the employer may be required to make accommodations so she can keep doing her job. Whether or not a person is covered under the ADA depends on the nature of his relationship with the company, the nature of the potential disability and the company's approach to the situation. For instance, an employee suffering from clinical depression triggered by severe stress may be covered if the company treats the depressive symptoms as a disability and changes the employee's work situation because of it. However, a health care worker with an injury may not be covered if she is considered an independent contractor rather than an employee or if the effects of the injury are short-term.

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