As the American population ages, there will continue to be a need for home health workers to provide care and assistance to patients. The value of these workers is incalculable, as many might otherwise have to live in-patient at nursing homes or worry about becoming a burden to family members.

There are many reasons why elderly and disabled patients prefer to live in their homes as long as is feasible. Primarily, it’s their private space where they can exercise self-determination over their decisions and lives. Living independently with assistance also allows them to remain connected to their communities, friends, neighbors and pets.

Three years ago, approximately 2 million personal care attendants were employed in the United States. But that figure is expected to increase as much as 40 percent within the coming decade. There are about 12,400 home health agencies in operation all over the country employing licensed practical nurses (LPN), registered nurses (RN), nurse’s aides and social workers.

These workers can find themselves at great risk of harm while caring for patients in remote settings where they may be preyed upon by their patients or their patients’ family members.

Researchers with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), in conjunction with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, took part recently in a two-pronged project that included forming a panel of experts to gain a better grasp of the unique safety issues home health workers face.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all health care workers face enhanced risks of injury on the job in comparison with workers in other sectors of industry. But those who work in home health have even higher risks due to their unique work environments.

Home health workers face the same threats as their counterparts in clinical settings — biohazard exposures from needle sticks, back injuries and environmental hazards from infection control agents used to clean the work area.

But the isolated nature of their work environment can leave them dangerously vulnerable to predatory attacks by patients or others. Some dementia patients may lash out in anger, while others may knowingly inflict violence on their caregivers. These attacks can be both psychologically and physically devastating to those in the home health field.

If you are a home health worker who was injured on the job, learn more about the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim.