Nepal health workers at risk of workplace hazards

Better policies and training needed for safety of medical professionals


A 25-year-old female nurse employed at a private hospital in Nepal has been experiencing back pain and shooting aches. She is exposed to viruses, fungi, and organic dust at work, and has developed allergies and skin disease due to exposure.

She is also at risk of radiation exposure as the hospital, has not implemented adequate safety measures to protect the workers except for the use of shielding walls. This is now affecting her mental health, causing sleep and eating disorders.

Job risk for health workers increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, but their burden of work-related accidents and illnesses around Nepal is still significant.

Nurses, doctors and other medical workers face a unique set of occupational hazards compared to other professions due to the nature of their work, which often involves direct contact with patients and exposure to various types of health and safety risks.

Some have back injuries from frequently having to lift patients, biological and chemical hazards and mental stress and burnout.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health found that back pain was the most common injury experienced by healthcare professionals around the world, with 64.8% of the 247 respondents reporting this condition. Over half of them were also afflicted by needle prick, a sensation of uncomfortable tingling or prickling in arms, legs, hands, or feet.

The study also highlighted the prevalence of workplace hazards with over 80% of the participants viewing them as a potential cause of injury or adverse health effects. While many workers were aware of the hazards in the hospital environment and recognised the importance of protecting themselves a significant number had not received any training to do so.

Over half of the respondents cited biological hazards as the biggest threat, with 87% of healthcare professionals reporting exposure to chemicals, 88% to biological risk, and 66% to viral dangers.

The study also found that work experience, employment status, and job type can impact the likelihood of facing hazards, with radiologists being a particularly high-risk group.

Although the measurement of radiation exposure among healthcare professionals can be challenging, almost half of the respondents reported constant exposure to radiation.

In Nepal, after the earthquake of 2015, radiation was found to have leaked from 18 hospitals in Kathmandu Valley. A joint study by NAST, the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS), and Teaching Hospital found that this leakage posed a risk to public and medical professionals' health.

In December 2022, the Nepal Institute of Science and Technology (NAST), stopped the Thermos Luminescent Dosimeter (TLD) service, which is used to measure the cumulative exposure to radiation among health workers in X-ray and CT scan rooms, putting them at a greater risk.

Most hospitals do not meet the radiation safety standards and there are no procedures for monitoring the use of radioactive equipment. The situation outside of Kathmandu Valley is even more dismal.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 59 million people globally work in healthcare facilities, accounting for 12% of the working population.

The International Labor Organisation (ILO) reports that millions of healthcare workers suffer from work-related diseases and accidents, and many succumb to occupational hazards. This highlights the need to address the occupational health and safety concerns faced by healthcare professionals also in Nepal.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a crucial aspect of any workplace, especially in the healthcare industry where workers are constantly exposed to various types of dangers.

The primary focus of OHS is to ensure the well-being of the workers, protect them from potential harm, and promote a safe and healthy work environment.

Despite the efforts made by scholars and practitioners to raise awareness about workplace health and safety, Nepal lacks legal support for OHS concerns. Apart from a few provisions in the Labour Act of 1992, Nepal's workers remain without adequate legal support for occupational safety and health concerns.

The Ministry of Health and Population has conveniently turned a blind eye to the situation. There are also no health programs in Nepal that address the prevention and control of occupational diseases and conditions.

To address these issues, hospitals in Nepal need to provide training and workshops about occupational health and safety. The government should also take steps to update policies and regulations to better protect healthcare workers.

It is essential to ensure the well-being of healthcare workers and prevent workplace hazards to create a safe and healthy working environment.

Marasini is a public health professional and correspondence author of the research report: Occupational health and safety hazards faced by health care professionals in Kathmandu based hospital.

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