Hospital Work Hazardous to Your Health

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , November 9, 2009

"So much of this is about poor design," he says. "What we have to do is, first of all, declare this current state to be unacceptable. Then we have to look at how we can redesign the workplace, like we did with needles and the patient care units, to reduce the chances of injury and illness from happening."

Conway says hospitals should consider workplace safety in the context of efficiencies. "If you drive out the things that are causing people to hurt themselves, then you are probably driving out poor processes and driving out things that don't add value," he says.

The spike in bariatric procedures provides an excellent example of how procedures can be re-examined to make the transfer of heavy patients safer for healthcare employees.

"With appropriate training and equipment, patients can be transferred very safely from beds to wheelchairs or beds to stretchers, from stretchers to X-ray machines, if you have the right training, equipment, and the right number of staff," Conway says. "But if you miss any of those, there is a much higher chance that the employee is at risk of harm."

Hospitals are high-risk environments. Given the vitally important nature of the job, that risk will never be completely eradicated. That should heighten our respect and appreciation for the work of healthcare professionals. That doesn't mean that we must accept that their workplace cannot be made safer. We owe it to them.

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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