Worker Safety in the Health Care Industry

Article excerpt

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that health care workers suffer more on-the-job injuries than professionals in most other industries, with more than two million lost workdays in 2011. The same year, a study in Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers, found that the relatively high rate of injuries in the health care industry totals about $13.1 billion.

Direct injury expenses in the health care industry are not a cost of doing business--since they are not intended to enhance the organization or generate revenue, they are losses. The indirect cost of injuries is four to five times higher than their direct cost, which impacts many areas of the business. Thus, there is a great need for the health care industry to develop sustainable safety solutions by using a multidisciplinary group of stakeholders to examine root issues linking employee and patient injuries.

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Historically, professionals with clinical experience have been the most dominant leaders of safety programs in the health care industry, but clinical knowledge is not the only prerequisite for understanding and addressing safety and health exposures. Organizational leadership as a whole can play a major role in educating and motivating employees to perform their jobs safely and balance efforts to prevent employee injuries while also preventing patient harm.

"Resources and attention have historically been focused on the prevention of harm to patients at the cost of harm to health care employees," said Colin J. Brigham, vice president of safety management and ergonomics at 1Source Safety and Health, Inc. "Care providers [are] willingly and unnecessarily putting themselves at risk of harm. As leaders, we need to reinforce living up to the health care oath of 'Do No Harm' from just care recipients to care recipients and providers. Protecting the care provider assures their availability to provide care."

Leaders of health care organizations should emphasize that practitioners are not expected to sacrifice their own safety and health. Without collaborative efforts to protect both employees and patients, one or both will be at risk.

"For safety professionals to successfully integrate and lead safety programs in health care, it is essential to understand the culture of health care and health care professionals," said Lynda Enos, a veteran nurse and ergonomics consultant at HumanFit, LLC. "Competing and constantly changing business, service and regulatory demands can make it challenging to maintain the sufficient organizational support for health care worker safety programs such as Safe Patient Handling. However, if such programs demonstrate a direct contribution to the achievement of health care organizations' business objectives and stakeholder needs, they will be effective in reducing work injuries and facilitate an essential shift in culture where worker and patient safety are viewed with equal importance."

The capabilities of health care workers also impact safety. These capabilities can either be enhanced or diminished by the work environment. Therefore, it is critical that the "built environment" approach to designing health care facilities encompasses early involvement of front line staff and risk management, environmental health and safety professionals, ergonomists, human factors engineers and experts from other pertinent disciplines in the design, budgeting and planning phases. …