At Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, a steady 15-20 per cent decline in reported job-related injuries and accidents over the last four years has significantly reduced costs associated with those incidents.
This on-going downward trend is the result of a thorough, dynamic and resilient occupational health and safety program at one of Manitoba’s oldest and the second largest healthcare and research facilities, a 530-bed teaching hospital with a campus of 4,000 health care professionals and support personnel.
Safety advisor, Quim Reis, CRSP joined St. Boniface Hospital in 2005 as part of the Occupational Health and Safety Team to design, implement and maintain its workplace health and safety program. He sums up the impetus of this plan in one word, “communication.”
Hospitals are uniquely challenging workplaces, completely different from industry, he said. Occupational health and safety in a hospital includes the safety of workers, patients, visitors and volunteers in an environment filled with medications and highly hazardous laboratory chemicals like Formaldehyde, radioactive materials for cancer treatments, Ethylene Oxide for sterilization and anaesthetic gases, to name a few.
Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, workers face a vast array of potential, risks and hazards:
- Physical – lighting, electricity, vibration, noise, temperature, humidity, radiation
- Chemical and Mineral – gases, mists, vapours, solids, dusts, fumes, liquids
- Communicable and Biological – blood-borne diseases, viruses, bacteria, moulds, sharps/needles sticks
- Ergonomic – repetition, awkward and static posture, force (including contact stress), work environment, patient handling
- Safety – slips, trips and falls, housekeeping, moving equipment and parts, anything that can cause traumatic injuries
- Work Organization and Psychosocial Environment – pace/intensity, social support/relations, workload/demands, control/latitude flexibility for non-work responsibilities, violence.
This recent reduction in reported workplace incidents at St Boniface Hospital reflects a number of improvements in workplace safety including real-time reporting of injuries; interim and long-term corrective action plans to prevent future injuries; a broad array of prevention programs and systems.
“We’ve shifted the culture at St. Boniface Hospital to support workplace safety,” he said.
Bringing more than 20 years of occupational health and safety planning experience and leadership to St. Boniface Hospital, mainly in industry, “I live and breathe safety,” Reis admitted.
“But developing a workplace health and safety program is just the first step,” he stressed. “A health and safety program won’t be effective if it is kept in a binder collecting dust. Resources are required to ensure its sustainability and continuous improvement.”
The goal of St. Boniface Hospital’s Occupational Health and Safety plan is to maintain a workplace free of hazards that could cause injury, illness or property damage, through:
- Compliance with the province’s health and safety laws and regulations,
- Educating staff, physicians, researchers, students and volunteers about workplace hazards and teach safe work practices
- The expectations that all staff follow safe work practices in their daily work and protect themselves and their fellow workers while doing their jobs.
The St. Boniface Hospital occupational health and safety program includes, but is not limited to the following components:
- Health and safety training, awareness and education
- Accident/incident reporting and investigation
- Workplace safety inspection programs
- Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and Safe Work Procedures (SWP)
- Occupational Hygiene Program
- Chemical Safety Program
- Musculoskeletal Injury Program
- Disability Management Program
- Respiratory Protection Program
- 10. Occupational Health Program
Mandatory occupational health and safety training begins with a two-day General Hospital Orientation for all new employees.
On Day One, they are given a review of St. Boniface Hospital’s “health and safety commitment,” workers rights, a review of emergency codes and evacuation plans, general Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training and testing.
On Day Two, patient care providers receive specific training on patient handling and other employees learn about safe material handling and office ergonomics.
It’s impossible to explain all the complex systems contributing to the cultural shift in workplace safety at St. Boniface Hospital and the reduction in accidents and injuries, but here are some highlights.
All St. Boniface Hospital workers in its 120 departments and units participate as members of a multi-tiered Central Workers Safety and Health Committee. It includes many sub-committees throughout the hospital programs and involves continuously monitored mini-training programs that help maintain the overall plan. Workers constantly report to each other, at training sessions and to OH&S.
One mini-program is a “How to Conduct Safety Inspections” training session held three times a year to ensure that new committee members and newly-hired managers and supervisors know their responsibilities for safety inspections held each quarter, Reis said.
Workers are trained to complete and review Job Hazard Analyses (JHA) and must take JHA competency tests. They consult and contribute to the development of health and safety policies related to their specific jobs and provide input on specific Safe Work Procedures (SWP). They attend annual Health and Safety refresher training courses throughout the year.
“One of the challenges in a hospital is ensuring all employees are able to attend education and training sessions,” Reis said. “This can be difficult for nurses and healthcare aides as they cannot leave their work responsibilities to attend a training sessions and it can be frustrating at times.”
An electronic system is used for reporting all injuries, illnesses and “near misses,” creating an instant “incident report,” Reis states.
This report is automatically emailed to OH&S staff, occupational health nurses and the Workers Compensation Board representative in Human Resources. These reports include interim corrective actions, root cause analysis and long-term corrective actions.
Recently a major crisis was averted because of the speed and efficiency of this electronic reporting system.
During an Asbestos Management refresher training session a couple of property management staff reported that some asbestos insulation on our ventilation piping systems was crumbling in several of our mechanical rooms.
“This prompted an investigation and immediate action was taken,” Reis said. “An Asbestos Abatement Contractor was hired and is removing the asbestos containing materials in the mechanical rooms as we speak. This prevented our ventilation systems from possibly spreading carcinogenic asbestos fibres throughout the hospital.”
St. Boniface’s Occupational Health and Safety motto is “continuous improvement,” Reis said. “We regularly review and look for ways to improve our programs.”
How do you measure success?
“We can say that over the last four years our WCB rates have consistently gone down every year, but for a program to work, it needs commitment, support and cooperation from all levels of employees and management – organizational commitment, not any individual in particular.”
How do you measure commitment and support from management?
“When they let you do your job as a safety professional. We have that at St. Boniface,” Reis said.
How do you measure support and cooperation from workers?
“You ensure their involvement and you thank them for their contribution. You let them know their contribution is valued. You always provide feedback and demonstrate that as a safety professional, you take their concerns seriously.”