This is the first article in a two-part series focused on defining the problem of workplace safety for the future: Part I | Part II

The healthcare industry has one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and illness, and the impact is great.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the number of days healthcare workers are away from work is higher than both construction and manufacturing — industries traditionally believed to be more hazardous. OSHA also reports workers' compensation losses result in a total annual expense of $2 billion for hospitals alone.

The healthcare workforce is distributed across a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, skilled nursing facilities, home healthcare, pharmacies and private clinician offices. Workers are exposed to a wide range of hazards including falls, needle sticks, chemical and biological exposures and combative or violent patients and other individuals.

The healthcare industry is increasing its efforts to improve their safety, but at the same time the healthcare delivery system is undergoing tremendous change and a shifting landscape. This includes innovative new delivery models for how and where care processes are carried out. For example, care processes increasingly include technology and are shifting to ambulatory and home settings.

Healthcare leaders and workers themselves must recognize that new workflows and ways of accomplishing their work will require vigilance and a view of workplace safety that evolves and keeps pace with the inevitable change. Those planning out new workflows and delivery models will need to stop, reflect and assess risks and potential hazards associated with the workplace of the future.

Key changes and challenges to reflect upon include the following:

Transformation: The evolving business of healthcare will require the culture of safety to keep pace with the changes and shifts in who, what, when and where of new care delivery models.

Security: Workplace violence is an increasing concern, and even the smallest clinician offices are concerned about active shooters. It seems everyone is reflecting on just how secure their facilities actually are and wondering how best to respond when faced with violent situations.

Emerging diseases: The 2014 cases of Ebola on U.S. soil highlighted worker vulnerability — when traditional PPE and isolation measures were quickly found to be insufficient in protecting workers. Similarly, the recent threat of the Zika virus presents new and possibly unrecognized challenges for keeping workers safe, especially those in their childbearing years.

Silver tsunami: The retirement of baby boomers is picking up pace, and millennials are taking their place in the workforce. These digital natives are much more ubiquitous in their communications and reliance on mobile devices and technology. This will created new risks — especially when these employees work virtually, remotely or are mobile.

Efficiency: Doing more for less is truly the mantra of anyone who is paying for healthcare. Until organizations learn how to eliminate waste, become more lean and reliable, improve their effectiveness and outcomes (all while satisfying their customers), the demands and workloads for individual workers will continue to increase. In response, some of these workers will attempt to keep up, multitask and try shortcuts. Over time, if not managed, these same workers will begin to burn out, make errors and/or become distracted or impaired creating not only risks to themselves and co-workers, but also to patients and the community

The next article in this two-part series will offer some strategies and resources for managing risks in the workplace and keeping employees safe.