These workers are the most likely to be hurt on the job

Getting old or sick isn’t for weaklings, but it turns out it’s also not easy on those who care for the elderly or infirm.

Employees in state-run nursing homes and hospitals suffer from the highest rate of on-the-job injury, surpassing that of even construction or policing, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 12 out of 100 workers in state-run nursing homes or hospitals suffered nonfatal workplace injuries last year, compared with 8 out of 100 workers in state construction jobs and 6.2 for justice and public order jobs.

Caring for the elderly and sick can be a tough job anywhere, but state facilities face higher risks of injury because they’re more likely to work with patents who can become violent, such as those who have been committed to a state psychiatric hospital, a report from the Government Accountability Office found earlier this year. 

Workers in private nursing homes and hospitals face a much lower risk than their colleagues at state-run institutions, although their rate -- 6.8 per 100 workers -- is still more than double the rate of 3.3 across all industries.

The issue is likely to gain in importance over the next few decades, given the aging American population that will push more people into nursing homes and spike demand for health aides. While the demand for nursing and care is only increasing, the labor market isn’t always keeping up, partially because of a combination of low pay and demanding work.

Home health workers, for one, typically make about $10 an hour, or less than $21,000 per year, even though they’re exposed to dangers such as abuse, physical injury and unhygienic conditions. 

Workplace violence is growing increasingly commonplace, and it hits women workers far more than men, according to an April AFL-CIO report. It found that the rate of violence in nursing and residential care facilities has increased 50 percent since 2005.

“The injury rate for workplace violence has been increasing even as the overall injury and illness rate in the U.S. has been decreasing,” the union said. “Workplace violence rates in health care and social assistance agencies have been increasing at an especially alarming rate.”

Workers in private industries are less likely to suffer an injury on the job than those who work for public agencies, the BLS data noted. Overall, rates of injury for private-sector employees have been falling for 13 years, it said. The rate for public-sector employees is little changed from a year ago, although the report noted that four out of five injuries last year were reported by local government workers, while state government workers saw a decline in their injury and illness rate. 

As for those risk-averse individuals who want to seek the safest jobs: Look no further than data processing and information services. Those industries have an on-the-job injury rate of 0.3 per 100 workers.