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The good news for women: Opportunities abound in the health care industry. The workforce is almost 80% female. As our population ages, health care is growing faster than any other field.

The bad news for women: The irony is that health care jobs pose risks to workers. The dangers are physical, emotional and mental. Workers suffer some of the highest rates of nonfatal injuries and illnesses.

Common physical risks

Health hazards are part of the job when you are a health care worker. They can be as simple as puncture wounds from handling needles. They can be as dangerous as a life-threatening disease.

You work close to infectious diseases as you care for patients. Exposure to bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites happens every day. You may not even know it.

Chemicals hazards are common in your workplace. You handle dangerous drugs, aerosol medications and anesthetic gases. You may use chemicals to clean, disinfect and sterilize surfaces, medical supplies and instruments.

You can suffer physical injuries from handling patients. Lifting, transferring and repositioning patients causes muscle strains, back pain and other injuries. Elderly patients, in particular, need mobility help.

Other risks

Stress also takes a toll on your well-being. You may work long hours and odd shifts. You may have to make split-second decisions under life-and-death circumstances. It is easy to feel unappreciated and overworked by your supervisors.

Studies show health care workers experience high blood pressure, problems sleeping, irritability and headaches. They also suffer higher rates of:

  • Substance abuse
  • Suicide
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Burnout, absenteeism and poor morale are common consequences. Your job performance can suffer, resulting in diagnosis and treatment errors. You may have difficulty balancing work and your responsibilities as a mother or wife.

Responding to risks

People put their lives in the hands of health care workers. The question becomes, who is watching out for you?

Do not accept a work-related injury or stress as part of your job. Your health and livelihood are at stake. You have rights under workers’ compensation laws.