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Health care assistants experience highest rate of workplace injuries in B.C.

Kevin Griffin

Jul Parojinog, health care assistant, attended Hearts and Hands Conference, a one-day event in Vancouver organized by WorkSafeBC to focus on the health and well-being of health care assistants. (Postmedia Network)

Jul Parojinog, health care assistant, attended Hearts and Hands Conference, a one-day event in Vancouver organized by WorkSafeBC to focus on the health and well-being of health care assistants. (Postmedia Network)

When most people think of dangerous jobs in B.C., it's probably a safe bet that a health care assistant isn't on their radar.

According to workplace statistics, it should be. The women and men working as frontline caregivers in residential care homes and hospitals have a workplace injury rate of 8.7 per 100 workers — four times the B.C. average of 2.1 for all workers.

Outdoor work in the forestry industry remains the province's most dangerous occupation, with an injury rate of 25 injuries per 100 workers.

Health care assistants, however, register more time-loss injuries than transport truck drivers, construction trades helpers and labourers, and carpenters.

There is one statistic where HCAs lead all occupations, according to Stephen Symon, manager of health care and social services, industry and labour services at WorkSafeBC. At 16,000 time-loss injury claims between 2012 and 2016, HCAs had the most of any occupation in B.C.

Symon said during that same period, time-loss claims among HCAs rose 11 per cent.

Symon was at a WorkSafeBC conference on Tuesday at the Italian Cultural Centre that brought together 250 health care assistants for the first time in Metro Vancouver. HCAs met to learn best practices among themselves and about the importance of staying healthy while at work.

Symon said WorkSafeBC believes that many HCA injuries are preventable and can be addressed with better safe-work practices.

Health care assistants file so many time-loss claims because they are working in a very difficult environment, he said.

In a residential care facility, for example, HCAs have to deal on a daily basis with patients who have any combination of dementia, physical mobility challenges and other complex health needs.

The most common type of injuries are due to lifting, pulling and pushing patients. The second are workplace violence incidents where patients hit, kick, bite or in some way strike the caregiver.

“That is something they face on a daily basis,” Symon said in an interview. “We have made what I think are significant improvements with mechanical and ceiling lifts and other devices to minimize the amount they have to lift and pull. I would say that we are still working on what would be best practices for the prevention of violence. There needs to be more.”

According to WorkSafeBC, 89 per cent of HCA claims are filed by women; 22 per cent are older than age 55. HCAs in residential and long-term care accounted for 61 per cent of injury claims in 2016. There are more than 32,000 HCAs in B.C.

“This conference is about celebrating health care assistants and the hard work that they do and the very challenging job they have,” Symon said.

Jul Parojinog was one of the health care assistants attending the Hearts and Hands Conference.

She said during her health care assistant program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, she was taught about the importance of de-escalating a situation and of recognizing that there is always a reason behind someone’s behaviour.

She told of one elderly man who has had a stroke. He regularly forgets to take his medication, but doesn’t like being reminded to take it. He finds it very difficult to accept his new limitations. He also isn’t always aware that what he thinks he communicates isn’t what he’s really doing.

Frustrated, he lashes out with words that can be hurtful, she said.

“We have to be patient and clarify and always check if what he’s saying is what he means,” she said. “It’s frustrating for him because he’s a very smart man. We have to be more understanding.”

kevingriffin@postmedia.com