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Greg Efta

When I started working in healthcare over 20 years ago, I should have applied for hazardous duty pay. Little did I know, but I was entering a profession that ranks third in injuries to our backs, behind automobile mechanics and construction workers. Back injuries are the leading type of injury in healthcare (I know, big surprise) and account for about one in every four injuries. The cost to our profession is literally in the billions of dollars. Nationally, back injuries cost American businesses nearly 15 billion dollars and millions of lost work days. Not only are the dollar costs huge (have you checked your worker’s comp premiums lately?) but the impact on the staff of our healthcare facilities is huge. Already facing a nurse and nurse aide shortage, nearly 20 percent of all healthcare back injuries are long term injuries, lasting months, years or even decades. We don’t have enough staff the way it is, so putting a nurse or nursing assistant on light duty or on paid leave just doesn’t make sense, especially since most back injuries are preventable.

Along with my colleagues at Maun-Lemke, we’ve studied hundreds of back injuries and have found that almost every injury could have been prevented. Proper training, equipment, staffing and procedures are the obvious first steps. What makes safety happen, though, is not just talking about it, but creating a culture of safety at all levels, departments, shifts and units. Having been in over 1,000 nursing homes, about 400 hospitals and hundreds of retirement communities, home health agencies, medical practices, etc., I can unconditionally testify to the fact that most, if not virtually all of those organizations, have some semblance of a safety committee. Well meaning and good intentioned, those safety teams are usually powerless to do anything to actually impact safety, unless there is a culture of safety cultivated in the organization.

Creating that culture is not done overnight. In fact, it takes years in some cases. The first step is making safety a priority. When staffing suffers, we make it a priority. When census dips, we make it a priority. When there’s a flu outbreak, we make it a priority. These are usually driven by an immediate need and a real and tangible impact. Once fixed, we go back to business as usual. Creating a culture of safety isn’t quite as easy as that. Sure, when worker’s compensation insurance premiums go through the roof, we begin to pay attention to it, but, honestly, we know it is a numbers game. Those premiums are usually driven by one or two severe cases and we know that if we just keep our noses clean for a couple of years, those premiums will go back down. This kind of thinking will keep the monkey off of your back…. Until the next major injury. The culture of safety has to be a priority and maintain its priority status indefinitely, regardless of your current rates. We’ve worked with organizations that made safety a priority for up to 10 years, saving over 1.5 million dollars in worker’s comp premiums in just three years. Within two years of discontinuing their safety initiatives and training, those premiums went right back to their previous levels. Injuries went up as the emphasis went down.

If you are ready to make safety a priority in your organization, Maun-Lemke can help. Ask us about our Race For Safety program and begin to cultivate the culture of safety in your organization.

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