Healthcare Employee Safety: How to Mitigate Risk in the Workplace

Marketing Specialist

Did you know hospitals are one of the most hazardous places to work? In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported in 2011 that U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses, a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees. “This is nearly twice the rate for a private industry as a whole,” states Antea Group, a global engineering and environmental consulting firm. These numbers are higher than those in construction, manufacturing, and other private industries.

Generally, it is management’s responsibility to provide a safe working environment for both staff and patients alike. It is the responsibility of management to prepare detailed instructions that clearly define how work should be performed to prevent quality and safety failures. The employee, however, is responsible for following these procedures.

Although it is possible to prevent and reduce healthcare workers’ exposure to these costly hazards, they continue to suffer injuries and illnesses in the workplace every day. According to Aon Risk Solutions, the average indemnity paid to injured workers in the hospital is $12,000. However, when you include some of the intangible costs that these injuries incur such as lost time, turnover, and associated training costs, the real cost of losing an employee due to an injury is closer to $60,000 per loss.

To reduce harm and improve employee safety at your healthcare workplace, here are a few methods you should closely consider.

Adopt A Lean Approach

Before diving in to solve problems, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends first enlisting a continuous improvement (commonly referred to today as Lean) team that includes frontline workers and their managers such as:

  • A Co-Leader: Department Manager
  • A Co-Leader: Health and Safety Department Representative
  • One or two supervisors and a couple of staff members who do the work in the department
  • A facilitator trained in continuous improvement methodologies
  • And a sponsor who also serves as a team member. They are responsible for breaking down barriers to progress.

The Lean team would take the time to fully analyze and understand the problems by surveying everyone involved in the day-to-day operations in providing care regarding how they are injured—not just the staff members on the team. It is critical to recognize conditions that may lead to injuries such as wet floors and loose/uncovered cords and wires—but more importantly, understand behavior. Why did the employee not solicit help before moving the patient? Were there time pressures to proceed with no help? Only by asking about how they were injured can your organization understand the root causes of the hazards.

Conduct Safety Training

According to OSHA, medical facilities need to train employees on how to handle hazardous substances safely.  For example, mercury, phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan or chemotherapeutic agents and medications are harmful and should require employees to always wear gloves and personal protective equipment. They can cause serious illnesses such as cancer, asthma, reproductive disorders, neurological diseases, and developmental disorders. Proper safety training and precautions will help reduce injuries and make for a safer working environment.

Establish a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP)

Effective April 1, 2017, healthcare employers in California must comply with a host of new workplace safety requirements aimed toward improving safety in the workplace. The new regulation requires that healthcare employers establish, implement and maintain a written Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP) for each unit, service and operation. In addition, the new regulation discusses new requirements for record keeping, training and reporting.

This plan affects almost all healthcare facilities, medical groups and several other care facilities including senior care centers, nursing homes and retirement homes. Specifically, if facilities provide diagnosis, treatment, convalescence or rehabilitation (including for pregnancy), and have capacity to admit more than 24 people, they are a covered entity. Moving forward, other healthcare organizations across the nation should closely examine this new law as it may help alleviate some of today’s increasing safety concerns and set a new precedent for future regulations.

Long-term process in improving workplace safety can only be achieved through changing the safety culture to one in which all employees believe that all accidents are preventable and that everyone holds a key role. What are some effective workplace safety requirements at your healthcare organization? Please share; we’d love to hear from you!

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