How to Make Healthcare Workplaces Safer

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Dwight RobertsonBy Dwight Robertson, MD

Healthcare workers have the greatest risk of getting injured on the job, resulting in more than 2 million lost work days in 2011 alone, according to a peer-reviewed feature published in September 2013 by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).  More than 1,000 injuries in the Health and Social Work sector are reported to the Health and Safety Authority – nearly 20% of all workplace injuries reported to the agency each year (HSA). Though keeping employees safe may seem like common sense, it is often an afterthought in the busy day-to-day operations of many medical practices.

That is, until someone gets hurt. At its core, workplace safety is about establishing a culture where employers actively care about their employees and, in return, employees take greater responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others. Successful workplace safety programs instill safety as a value, integrate it as a core business function, and target prevention as the primary means of reducing the frequency and severity of potential accidents. Moreover, establishing a culture that promotes workplace safety can have meaningful bottom line benefits in the form of lower workers’ compensation costs and increased productivity. Here are five ways to ensure workplace safety is a priority at your practice:

1. Get help. Talk to your workers’ compensation insurance carrier and see what resources and support it can provide. Many carriers can offer safety reminder collateral to post in break rooms or other employee common areas. Some can also help you design a customized workplace safety program to follow and share applicable best practices from other businesses. Also, don’t hesitate to use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a resource. Many employers are wary of bringing in a regulatory agency, but OSHA is mandated to offer free consultations to any employer.

2. Have written policies in place. Medical practices, like any small business, need to have documented programs and policies to which all employees can refer. This is particularly important for your injury and illness prevention program, as well as broader workplace safety programs.  Having your expectations in writing makes them more easily understood and easier to enforce when necessary.

3. Regularly train your workplace safety officer. If you don’t have one, make it a priority to identify someone on your staff to fill this role.  Often, businesses assign the safety officer role to a staff member who lacks adequate training and experience. However, the best way to get that experience is to reach out to a professional risk manager. Your insurance agent or carrier can be a great resource if you don’t have one on staff. Have the risk manager spend some time in your office to identify potential hazards and give you and your workplace safety officer recommendations on how to address them.

4. Communicate and educate. Successful workplace safety programs include staff members in discussions about safety issues. They make them a part of the process. Staff members need to know what to do if an injury occurs and to whom and how the incident needs to be reported.

5. Prepare now for an inspection. Should your practice be singled out for an OSHA inspection, knowing how the visit will be managed will make it less burdensome. Know the rules and regulations around occupational safety and have a system in place to manage these situations.

A good way to prepare is by having a company policy on how to respond to an inspection, training employees on how to respond, identifying who will handle the inspection, and ensuring your safety program is up-to-date. Taking the time now to refresh and invest in your workplace safety program can not only save your practice money over the long-run, it also protects your most valuable asset – your employees.

Dwight Robertson, MD, is National Medical Director, Managed Care Services, for EMPLOYERS®, America’s small business insurance specialist®, which offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company and Employers Assurance Company. Insurance is not offered in all jurisdictions. 

For more information, please visit www.employers.com. Copyright 2014.  EMPLOYERS.  All rights reserved.