Workers’ compensation claims can arise in dental offices just as in other job environments. Once a claim is filed, it is followed by processes such as medical record retrieval and review among others. What are the workplace injuries and illnesses dental practice employees may be susceptible to? They are exposed to some common safety risks such as slips and falls, and are also vulnerable to unique workplace hazards that could lead to injuries and illnesses on the job.
Typically, medical record analysis of injured employees show injuries acquired from the use of dental tools such as probes, explorers, and drills. Dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants face the risk of injury and disease via hand-to-mouth contact or through puncture wounds. Therefore, a good workplace safety program and appropriate workers’ compensation insurance are vital to ensure the wellbeing of dental employees and the practice itself. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires dental practices to promote safe and healthy working conditions. OSHA does not have any specific standards for the dental industry, but there are many chemical, biological, physical, and environmental risks in dental practices that may be subject to OSHA requirements. Most importantly, caution must be taken against risks associated with blood-borne pathogens, radiation, cuts, lacerations, and punctures.
- Sharps (needles, blades such as scalpels) injuries: These injuries are among the most common risks affecting workplace safety in dental offices, according to research studies. Syringe punctures could expose dentists and hygienists to harmful pathogens.
- Exposure to radiation: X-rays are used in the dental practice to help diagnose damage or disease that may not be visible during a standard exam. Radiation related injury is minor in dentistry, but appropriate precautions must be taken to protect employees from unnecessary exposure. There are specific requirements set by state laws and regulations for using X-ray machines, and dentists have to be knowledgeable regarding these.
- Hazardous materials: Dental professionals may be exposed to hazardous chemicals such as anesthetics and disinfectants as part of their profession. Various chemicals are used in the dental workplace to carry out dental treatment successfully. These include X-ray processing solutions, decontamination solutions, mercury in amalgam fillings and so on. Knowledge of their correct storage and usage by staff, and protection from misuse by all others are important to avoid a hazardous workplace event. OSHA requires employers to inform workers regarding the hazards present in the workplace and how they can keep themselves safe.
Safety Measures to Adopt in a Dental Practice
Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires the following:
- Provide employee safety training specific to handling bloodborne pathogens
- A written exposure control plan that must be updated every year
- Provide employees with appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as gloves, masks, glasses and gowns
- Use of universal precautions, which is an approach to infection control to treat all human blood and bodily fluids as if they were known to contain HIV, HBV and other bloodborne pathogens
- Exposed employees with a free Hepatitis B vaccine as well as any required medical follow-up
- Use proper sharps disposal boxes and containers for regulated waste and contaminated laundry
- Employees must be given information and training regarding the hazardous chemicals present in their work area. The language and vocabulary must be that which employees understand.
- Employers must maintain an accurate list of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
- Provide workers with Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each substance, which give detailed information about chemical hazards, side effects, exposure prevention and emergency treatment procedures.
- Label chemical containers and clearly identify the material inside.
Given the presence of potential risks in dental practices, dentists and orthodontists must proactively address such hazards and prioritize dental staff safety. This will reduce the possibility of workplace injuries, illnesses, and workers’ compensation claims. The effort must be to provide a working environment that is safe, without health risks, and adequate as regards arrangements and facilities for employees’ welfare at work. The staff must be given whatever training, instruction or supervision that are necessary to ensure health and safety. The Health and Safety Performance of all staff must be reviewed on an annual basis. Also, you must be aware of and look into any concerns or failures as and when they occur. These steps will help minimize the identified risks as far as possible, and thereby prevent harm to workers.