During the past decade, if not longer, there's been an intense focus on improving patient safety. The movement has evolved to the point where it is now one of the top two or three agenda items at many hospital boards of trustee meetings. Can we say the same about worker safety?
I'm not suggesting that worker safety isn't a top priority for hospital leaders or that hospital staff are carelessly put in harm's way; to the contrary. Hospitals have done a considerable amount to protect workers. However, initiatives to prevent needlesticks don't gain as much attention as those to prevent a never event. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a bit biased toward the subject because I cut my teeth as a cub reporter covering OSHA and workplace safety.
Yesterday, OSHA officials unveiled a new online resource for hospital executives with the aim of shining a brighter light on the issue of worker safety. The site provides guidance for improving safety conditions on such topics as safe patient handling, workplace violence and exposure to bloodborne pathogens. It taps into experiences at some of the nation's leading hospitals and health systems and profiles their efforts to improve worker safety. Perhaps most importantly, there's a resource for developing a safety and health management system that cuts across the entire organization.
"These new materials can help to prevent hospital worker injuries and improve patient safety, while reducing costs," OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels,M.D., said on a press call. "At the heart of these materials are the lessons from high-performing hospitals that have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety."
There were 250,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in hospitals in 2012. Nearly 60,000 of those caused employees to miss work. Workers' compensation losses totaled $2 billion, according to Michaels.
One of the underlying themes of the resource guide — uttered time and time again by speakers on the press call — was this: Worker safety and patient safety must be viewed through the same lens.
"We've come to realize that one of the most important things we can do to make hospitals safe for patients is to make them safe for our workers," patient safety expert Lucian Leape, M.D., said during the call. Leape is chairman of the Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation.
In a separate statement, Pam Thomspon, AHA senior vice president for nursing and CEO of the American Organization for Nurse Executives, agreed, saying that principles hospitals have used to improve patient safety "provide a framework for improving health care worker safety."
She commended OSHA for highlighting best practices in place at various hospitals. "Our experience is that the strategies developed and honed by such hospitals are the most effective help other hospitals can receive. The documents released by OSHA today highlight leadership strategies and practices that will help hospitals to augment their existing efforts to safeguard workers."
However, Thompson lamented that OSHA "failed to offer sufficient context to help the public appreciate the differences between a health care workplace and that of construction sites or manufacturing plants. It is critically important to understand the work being done and the nature of the risks of providing care to patients if improvements are to be achieved."