Often overlooked when considering the safety and well-being of health care workers are students attending medical, dental, nursing and other schools for health professionals and volunteers serving pro bono in healthcare facilities. Since they are not “employees” in the technical or legal sense of the term, they are ineligible for workers’ compensation and employment-based health insurance in many jurisdictions. Health care administrators have only a moral obligation to be concerned about their health and safety.
The clinical segments of their training bring medical, nursing and dental students into direct contact with patients who may have infectious diseases. They perform or assist in a variety of invasive procedures, including taking blood samples, and often do laboratory work involving body fluids and specimens of urine and faeces. They are usually free to wander about the facility, entering areas containing potential hazards often, since such hazards are rarely posted, without an awareness of their presence. They are usually supervised very loosely, if at all, while their instructors are often not very knowledgeable, or even interested, in matters of safety and health protection.
Volunteers are rarely permitted to participate in clinical care but they do have social contacts with patients and they usually have few restrictions with respect to areas of the facility they may visit.
Under normal circumstances, students and volunteers share with health care workers the risks of exposure to potentially harmful hazards. These risks are exacerbated at times of crisis and in emergencies when they step into or are ordered into the breech. Clearly, even though it may not be spelled out in laws and regulations or in organizational procedure manuals, they are more than entitled to the concern and protection extended to “regular” health care workers.