Federal Grant Awarded to Benefits Group to Study Workplace Safety

SEATTLE — A $150,000 federal grant was awarded to the SEIU 775 Benefits Group last week for a project that seeks to reduce on-the-job injuries and establish best practices for ensuring safety at work for Home Care Aides (HCAs) in Washington state.

With the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) seed money, the Benefits Group will study a set of innovative safety measures that include a portable safety toolkit that HCAs can easily carry into clients’ homes. The project will produce much-needed evidence about the injury reduction potential of this toolkit. Results will be shared with a national audience to build awareness, develop best practices, and prevent on-the-job injuries in home care.

“This grant will improve knowledge about the impact of safety tools that were intentionally and professionally developed to help make the work of home care easier and safer,” Benefits Group Executive Director Charissa Raynor said. “Home Care Aides do such important work, but it can be hard. We aim to make this work safer.”

Home care has become a large and integral part of care for people with chronic and long-term conditions, rising in popularity as a result of an aging U.S. population and soaring facility-based health care costs. The physical nature of home care, which often involves lifting, transferring, and repetitive motions, can result in injuries to HCAs. Such injuries have a cascading effect, including pain and loss of wages due to recovery time for the HCA, loss of the regular caretaker for clients, and costly workers’ compensation claims.

“This is a unique way to enlist a labor-management partnership to address the on-the-job injury risks face by Home Care Aides,” said Dr. Leslie Phillips, Director of Population Health and Safety for the Benefits Group. “Workplace safety is a very real and unsolved challenge that is becoming more critical as home care expands to meet growing demand.”

HCAs experience a rate of on-the-job injury that is four times greater than the national average. Their injury rates are comparable to those of metal workers. Yet, unlike metal workers, home care is not necessarily recognized as a high-risk vocation. As a result, HCAs may perform their work without safety tools and may even engage makeshift, untested tools to assist in doing their work.

The SEIU 775 Benefits Group will be testing a safety kit comprised largely of four different safety tools: slip-free shoes; adhesive push/touch lights that can be easily placed in low-light areas to improve visibility; gait belts with hand grips to help with lifting and transferring a client; and sharps disposal containers to reduce exposure to potential blood-borne pathogens. Over the next 18 months, the Benefits Group will enroll 200 HCAs in Washington state, half of whom will be provided with this toolkit and half of whom will not. Outcomes related to pain and injury will be tracked over time and, at the end of the study, help characterize whether the toolkit can reduce on-the-job injuries in the Benefits Group’s home care workforce.

The prestigious grant, awarded for innovative labor-management partnerships, amounts to $150,827 for the Seattle-based Benefits Group. The grants program began in 1981 and has funded projects designed to improve communications, strategic planning, recruitment, industry changes, and economic development by encouraging cooperative efforts among labor, management, and communities.

The Benefits Group (formerly known as the SEIU Healthcare NW Health Benefits Trust and SEIU Healthcare NW Training Partnership) provides innovative, high-quality training, health, and retirement benefits to Washington state’s Home Care Aide workforce to improve care and transform the long-term care industry. The Benefits Group supports the professional development and wellbeing of approximately 43,000 HCAs across Washington state.