Trends in the healthcare industry with safety and health implications bear watching, because they have parallels in general industry.

1) Lean staffing - These are lean times in healthcare, with more being asked of fewer workers. "Today, we face a shortage of 400,000 registered nurses alone," says Bill Borwegen, safety and health director for the Service Employees International Union.

2) Aging workforce - This worker shortage is significantly worsened by the failure of healthcare employers to address the wide range of hazards aging healthcare workers face, according to Borwegen. Their average age is 45, he says. "How many more of these increasingly heavier patients can these aging nurses manually lift and transfer before being worn out?" asks Borwegen.

3) Lifting hazards - Eighty percent of RNs report working with back, shoulder and/or neck pain on a regular basis; 12 percent actually leave their profession each year as a direct result of musculoskeletal injuries, according to Borwegen. "Yet we know that for every dollar spent on mechanical lifting and transfer devices, healthcare employers save up to $10 on workers' compensation premiums," he says. "Where is the leadership within our ranks, our professional associations and the government to work to create a safer healthcare work environment? I fear it is sorely lacking."

Borwegen advocates aggressive strategies to address the hazards facing this growing sector of the workforce. "As the nation's baby boomers increasingly enter the healthcare system, this crisis will only get worse. We need to make the field safer and more attractive to not only retain existing healthcare workers, but to also recruit new workers to this sector, he says.