Guest Columns

Playing it safe: The need for a comprehensive safety program

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Betty Norman
Betty Norman

Does your organizational safety program and committee focus solely on employee injuries and Workers' Compensation issues? If so, you are not alone.

Due to the rising cost of Workers' Compensation insurance, ever more stringent OSHA regulations, and an increase in employee injuries that result in lost work time, many organizations have zeroed in on these issues. In doing so, however, organizations can lose sight of the other safety concerns that are part of doing business.

A comprehensive, organization-wide safety management program needs to address not only the safety of its employees but also its patients, visitors, volunteers and all those who interact with the organization. What should be included in this type of program?

  • Written program with policies/procedures
  • Ongoing safety inspections
  • Information collection and reporting
  • Compliance with regulatory standards
  • Committee structure
  • Education
Written program

Written policies and procedures validate the organization's commitment to their safety program. A myriad of safety issues need to be captured for a proactive approach to safety management. These include equipment safety, fire safety, building and grounds safety, and driver safety.

A designated Safety Officer is a key component of an effective program. Without one, the safety program is more likely to fail. In smaller organizations, the Safety Officer may have other responsibilities as well. Some fundamental responsibilities of the Safety Officer should include Safety Committee chair, participation in the review of existing safety policies and development of new policies, and knowledge of applicable laws and regulations.

All safety policies and procedures, both organization-wide and department specific, should be reviewed annually and updated as needed.


Ongoing assessment of safety and health hazards is one of the most effective risk reduction strategies of any safety program. Encourage department managers to perform daily safety inspections of their areas. Scheduling periodic reviews of all patient care and office areas by a Safety Committee sub-group allows the organization to determine if safety policies/procedures and processes are being practiced correctly and if they are effective.

Utilize a safety inspection checklist to assure consistency. Include an inspection of the campus grounds and parking areas as well, since many incidents result from unsafe conditions in these areas.

Information Collection

Data collection is a significant part of an effective safety management program. Sources of information might include:

  • Incident reports
  • Vehicle accident reports
  • Safety inspections
  • Equipment breakdown information
  • Fire drill and emergency response drill evaluations
  • Workplace ergonomic assessment data
Some information sources may overlap. For example, an incident involving patient injury due to a piece of equipment might need to be reported through the Quality Improvement Program as well as the Safety Program.

Compliance with regulatory standards

Many agencies regulate safety in the healthcare arena. Most notably, these include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Professional standard-setting organizations play a large role in shaping government regulations, and it can be valuable to familiarize yourself with these standards. For organizations with residential or overnight locations, the most important of these is the National Fire Protection Association.

Organizations that are accredited by outside agencies, such as the Joint Commission or the Council on Accreditation, will need to stay up-to-date on any changes with those standards.

Committee structure

The Safety Committee serves a multidisciplinary oversight function for the overall Safety Program. Include representation from all departments and business locations: administration, facilities, resident care areas, housekeeping, infection control and dietary. Some committee attributes that lead to a more effective Safety Program include:

  • Meetings held at least every other month
  • A standing agenda
  • Encouraged participation from all members committee minutes maintained in writing
  • Documented follow-up of all identified problems until resolution

Employee education and training are key components of an effective Safety Program. The orientation program should focus on safety issues and introduce new employees to the organization's Safety Plan. Annual mandatory safety training sessions should be held. It is estimated that unsafe acts are responsible for up to 90% of all work-related accidents.

One area that is often overlooked in employee training is driver safety. Since hospice and homecare workers and volunteers are out on the roads in a work-related capacity on a daily basis, it is important to include driver safety training in both the orientation and annual safety training processes.

In short, your Safety Program can help prevent accidents for everyone who interacts with your organization. Making small changes to risky practices can help your campus run more smoothly. Take a proactive approach to safety management with a comprehensive safety program.

Betty Norman is the Director of Risk Control Services for Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, an insurance program manager.


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Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.