Every morning at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, staff from each department gather together in a conference room to begin the day the way they always do – by talking about workplace safety.
One staff member is designated the new “safety officer of the day,” and the agenda includes, as always, a review of recent safety incidents and concerns. As Health Director Alison Muth explains, “Starting the day without these meetings would be like pulling out of the driveway without your seatbelt on.”
It’s no coincidence that Cincinnati Children’s is generally acknowledged as one of the very best pediatric hospitals in the country. Both the current and previous CEOs have run non-health care companies and recognize the value of a safe workplace – to workers, to customers and to the bottom line.
Applying high reliability principles to patient care, Cincinnati Children’s was able to reduce serious patient safety events by 80 percent. High reliability principles are tools that a growing number of hospitals are using to help improve their safety culture. These concepts teach organizations how to systematically think about and change the challenging and persistent safety issues they face in order to significantly reduce failures. Using these principles, the hospital implemented a more comprehensive safety and health management system and reduced lost time days by 83 percent in just three years. And as the hospital has continually driven down injury and illness rates, Cincinnati Children’s has become a recognized leader in quality-of-care.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is not alone. There are many other hospitals across the country that do it right. There are even 14hospitals – such as University Medical Center at Brackenridge in Austin, Texas, and Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., who participate in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs, an elite group of companies whose proactive approach to injury and illness prevention have resulted in dramatic decreases in workplace injuries, accompanied by a transformed workplace culture that leads to higher productivity and quality, reduced turnover, reduced costs and greater employee satisfaction.
It’s important for all hospitals to follow suit. In 2012, U.S. hospitals recorded 248,100 work-related injuries and illnesses, nearly 58,000 of which caused employees to miss work. The good news is that injuries and illnesses can be prevented.
OSHA recently released a new educational Web resource with extensive materials to help hospitals prevent worker injuries, assess workplace safety needs, enhance safe patient handling programs, and implement safety and health management systems. OSHA’s suite of new resources can help other hospitals join these industry leaders in providing superior protection for workers and the very best in quality-of-care. At the heart of these new materials are real life lessons from high-performing hospitals who have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety.
Dr. David Michaels is the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.