"Patient safety right now is getting all the attention, but we need to get worker safety higher up on the radar because many of these issues really are a combination of worker and patient safety issues-many of them overlap, and it's a logical connection," said Gina Pugliese, RN, MS, during the Safe in Common conference. Pugliese is vice president of Premier Safety Institute, adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and Rush University College of Nursing, and senior associate editor of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.
Pugliese noted the outbreak of infection from recent years that potentially exposed hundreds of thousands of patients to bloodborne pathogens, all from clinicians who followed unsafe injection practices, such as reuse of single-dose vials and syringes. "We know that patient safety culture and worker safety culture is linked," she said.
Pugliese said the same things that bring attention to and work for patient safety initiatives, such as visible support from management, also work for healthcare worker safety.
One example is the operating room (OR), which is infamous for being a difficult setting to implement patient safety processes such as timeouts, and is no less difficult in regard to employee safety topics like sharps. Forty-six percent of attendees said the OR represents their biggest challenge to sharps safety implementation.
Pugliese said methods that work for patient safety in the OR, such as physician champions, are usually most effective in occupational safety as well. She also noted how patient safety efforts could easily incorporate the topic of employee safety at the same time.
"We're seeing a lot of these patient safety walk-arounds, and it would be very easy to incorporate some of the worker safety issues into them," she said, suggesting hospital worker safety professionals ensure that the scripts often used for these walk-arounds address worker safety issues as well.
A culture of safety for both workers and patients also requires an environment that encourages reporting and is nonpunitive yet holds staff accountable. Pugliese suggested incorporating employee safety practices into performance reviews and credentialing procedures.