4 min read

Prioritizing Healthcare Employee Safety: Key Insights for Success

healthcare employee safety

In recent years, the healthcare industry has grappled with an array of unprecedented challenges, spanning from critical staffing shortages to an increased workload exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges have not only impacted patient care but also raised substantial concerns regarding healthcare employee safety.

To address this vital issue and explore strategies for elevating safety within the healthcare sector, we were privileged to have Heidi Raines, Founder and CEO of Performance Health Partners, join Peter Steinfeld, host of "The Employee Safety Podcast." Their insightful conversation has yielded several pivotal takeaways, which we share below.

The Current Challenges in Healthcare

The healthcare industry is currently grappling with significant staffing shortages, which have a direct impact on employee safety. Since the onset of the pandemic, approximately one in five healthcare professionals have left the field, and a staggering 90% of nurses are contemplating leaving in the near future.

This shortage, coupled with increasing workloads and schedules, has led to an unprecedented level of burnout among healthcare practitioners. Regrettably, burnout can result in medical errors, healthcare-acquired infections, and compromise the safety of both patients and employees.

Moreover, workplace violence is an ever-present threat in healthcare, rendering it one of the most hazardous industries for employees.

Staffing shortages amplify the vulnerability faced by healthcare workers in these circumstances.

While staffing shortages may sometimes be beyond the control of safety and security leaders, there are still measures they can take to address systemic issues in healthcare to improve safety outcomes. One crucial aspect is to encourage employee feedback and develop a culture of near-miss reporting.

The Role of Near-Miss Reporting in Healthcare Employee Safety

A "near miss," also known as a "good catch," refers to incidents that had the potential to cause severe injury or death but were intercepted before any harm or incident occurred. These near-misses function as early warnings for systemic breakdowns within the organization.

It is paramount that healthcare employees, who serve as the eyes and ears of the organization, have ready access to a tool or system enabling them to report observations and system failures that might precipitate harm.

By providing employees with a platform for reporting near-miss incidents and unsafe conditions, organizations can identify potential hazards at their roots, which are often attributable to system failures rather than human error. This approach fosters a culture of prevention, leading to improved safety outcomes for employees and patients alike.

Best Practices for Reporting

In fostering a culture of reporting, Heidi recommends:

Anonymous reporting: One powerful tool regarding reporting is anonymity. It empowers employees to voice concerns without fear of retaliation or other concerns.

Research published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine reveals that anonymous reporting systems can augment the reporting of medical errors by 54% and near-misses by up to three times, compared to non-anonymous reporting systems.

Implementation of anonymous reporting systems permits organizations to transition from a culture of blame to one of encouragement and learning.

Safety huddles: Furthermore, regular interactions with employees through safety huddles can create an environment where reporting incidents and near-misses is actively encouraged.

Cultivating a culture of safety: It is imperative that organizations foster a psychologically safe space where employees feel at ease sharing their observations and concerns.

Benefits of Collecting Incident and Near-Miss Data

Collecting data on incidents and near-misses extends beyond employee safety, delivering three pivotal advantages:

  1. Insights: Data provides organizations with invaluable insights, driving improvements across various sectors. By harnessing data, leadership can make informed decisions that support the organization's objectives, optimize workflows, and enhance overall efficiency. Data empowers organizations to detect trends, patterns, and potential issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  2. Action: With data, organizations understand the root causes of incidents and near-misses, enabling them to implement targeted actions for prevention. This leads to better quality of care, improved patient outcomes, decreased costs, and enhanced organizational performance.
  3. Prevention: Recognizing and acting to prevent harm to employees and patients has the greatest potential effect on enhancing the quality of care in our healthcare systems, much like preventative care and wellness initiatives slow or halt the progression of diseases.

Download our How to Implement a Near Miss Program Webinar

Leadership's Role in Developing a Safety Culture

Leadership plays a crucial role in developing a safety culture, which includes a culture of reporting observations. They must foster a culture of psychological safety in which employees are empowered and supported to speak up, even to the extent of celebrating near misses through incentives and recognition.

Another practice that leadership can adopt is employee rounding. Just as physicians and nurses conduct rounds on their patients, leadership should also conduct rounds on employees. This involves soliciting employees' perspectives on what is functioning well and what can be improved to provide better care for patients and themselves.

This approach bridges the gap between front-line clinical care and leadership and underscores the importance of taking appropriate action based on the feedback received.

Ultimately, leaders can set the tone for a culture of reporting safety by actively listening to employees, addressing their suggestions, and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to continuous improvement.

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Impact on Healthcare Employees

A culture of near-miss reporting exerts a positive influence on healthcare employees in several ways:

  • Enhanced engagement and empowerment in their work.
  • Elevated job satisfaction and retention rates.
  • A direct correlation with employee safety results in a safer work environment.

According to The Harvard School of Public Health, employee engagement plays a substantial role in reducing on-the-job accidents. This is especially critical considering that nearly 64% of employees were not fully engaged, as indicated in a 2020 Gallup study.

Implementing Safety Practices Across All Industries

The principles of near miss reporting and the development of a safety extend beyond the healthcare sector. High-risk industries can also derive significant benefits from these practices. The implementation of anonymous reporting systems and regular communication with employees can improve safety outcomes and foster a safer work environment, regardless of the industry in question.

Improving healthcare employee safety is a multifaceted challenge that requires a culture of near-miss reporting, leadership commitment, and proactive measures. By fostering a culture of safety and encouraging near-miss reporting, healthcare organizations can not only enhance employee safety but also improve patient care and organizational efficiency.

The insights shared by Heidi in her podcast conversation with Peter provide valuable guidance for healthcare leaders and safety professionals as they work to create safer healthcare environments.

Listen to the full episode here.

Ready to Get Started?

Ready to learn more about how Performance Health Partners’ software – ranked #1 in the nation by KLAS Research – can help your organization improve healthcare employee safety and foster a culture of safety? Connect with our team to schedule a call.

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