Creating a culture of safety in healthcare is necessary to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees and patients alike is a priority for your organization. Implementing a safety culture in a healthcare setting can be challenging, however.
What is a culture of safety in healthcare and why is it important?
According to the American Nurses Association, the definition of a culture of safety in healthcare describes the behaviors and core values that eventuate when organizational leadership, management and healthcare workers make a collective and continuous commitment to emphasize safety over competing goals in the healthcare setting.
Healthcare organizations need to ensure the wellbeing and safety of their staff and patients not only because they have a moral duty of care to do so, but because failure to can result in a range of legal ad regulatory issues. Poor safety cultures can also lead to financial and reputational losses, staff burnout, high employee turnover, the inability to recruit top talent, skyrocketing insurance premiums and poor patient outcomes.
The healthcare sector loses billions of dollars each year as a result of preventable patient harm. A culture that prioritizes safety in every part of the healthcare workplace will help to minimize this risk.
The main characteristics of a healthcare staff and patient safety culture include:
- Organizations committing to providing resources that will address any safety concerns
- Implementing systems that ensure safe care at all times
- Ensuring that everyone understands they are responsible and accountable for safety – including following all safety protocols and reporting hazards and unsafe conditions
- Recognizing the most high-risk workplace activities such as exposure to aerosol and blood-borne pathogens or harmful chemicals.
- Introducing and monitoring protocols for preventing injuries in the workplace
- Ensuring an open workplace where employees can feel they can report safety concerns safely and without reprisals.
5 steps to create a strong safety culture in your healthcare organization
Creating a culture of safety in a healthcare organization will take some time and effort, and there is no quick fix solution – especially if there have been ongoing and systemic safety issues in the workplace. Organizations need to ensure that they change employee behaviors, not just change policies. Staff need to be encouraged to prioritize the safety of their colleagues and their patients alike and understand why it is important to do so.
1. Improve communication
To build a culture of safety it’s important that your employees are well-informed. Having effective communication practices in place is essential for this – it means that management communicates its intentions for safety practices in the workplace to employees and they get the information they need in a timely manner. Employees also need to have a way to effectively communicate any potential safety risks with their colleagues as well as management.
2. Introduce sound incident reporting systems
In some organizations, errors and safety issues go unreported because employees fear there will be disciplinary or other action from management. It’s crucial that staff understand that they have a duty to report safety issues, and are encouraged to do so. You can even promote this idea by rewarding good behavior and having ambassadors for the reporting system.
3. Have leadership model the behaviors you want to encourage
Culture safety can be established when there is a conscious effort to model the desired behavior from the top down. When leadership acts in a way that makes people think safety is not important, it is unrealistic to expect that staff will act differently.
4. Keep an eye on emerging safety issues
Once you’ve established a reporting system, you need to regularly review the reports that come in. There should be staff members who are assigned responsibility to deal with reviewing and following up on safety issues, including investigating and making recommendations for change.
5. Actively invest in safety
Changing procedures and staff attitudes is not enough if you aren’t going to back it up with the resources that people need to ensure that safety is paramount in the workplace. There are lots of different things this could include, such as personal protective equipment, supplies, software and even training.
Promoting a culture of safety in healthcare
Good communication is key to establishing and promoting your organization’s culture of safety. Some steps to achieve this include:
1. Creating internal marketing campaigns
Sending information to staff in a visual and engaging way is key to keeping safety protocols and responsibilities front-of-mind. This can be achieved by developing creative content that you distribute in a variety of ways to ensure that it will be seen by as many people as possible. This includes screensavers, digital signage displays, pop-up notifications, posters and more.
2. Let people know when there’s a safety issue
Letting employees know when there’s a known safety issue will show how seriously you take safety. It also ensures that they can take appropriate steps to remain safe, and to keep patients safe. You should alert people to a safety issue in a timely manner and use communication channels that are guaranteed to get the information through, such as pop-up notifications, desktop tickers or mobile alerts.
3. Provide appropriate training
It’s important to give people training in various safety measures – including modelling the best practice way of carrying out specific tasks. Many people are visual learners and will not necessarily be able to interpret written information in a way that sees them consistently carry out safety procedures.
4. Test employees’ knowledge on safety
You can get an idea of how much people understand safety procedures and their personal obligations and responsibilities by sending quizzes for them to complete. Looking at the results you’ll be able to identify whether or not there are any knowledge gaps that you need to address via mitigation strategies.
The importance of safety culture in healthcare cannot be overstated. Implementing safety measures and appropriately communicating them will see your organization on its way to establishing a zero harm culture in healthcare.
Frequently asked questions
What are 5 safety concerns in healthcare?
The factors that cause the five main safety concerns in healthcare are:
- Lack of appropriate safety resources
- Lack of appropriate guidelines, policies and protocols
- Poor or non-existent communication
- A lack of support from management and no governance
- Insufficient patient safety incident reporting systems
Why is culture of safety important in healthcare?
Establishing a culture of safety in healthcare is important to prevent or reduce errors, improving the overall quality of health care received by patients, and keeping staff physically and mentally safe in their workplace.
What are the 3 major safety concerns for health care workers?
Three of the major safety concerns for health care workers are:
- Burnout due to stress and long hours
- Violence in the workplace
- Back injuries
What are the principles of safety in healthcare?
The principles of safety in healthcare are:
- Creating transparent and non-punitive reporting systems for adverse events
- Encouraging leadership to model the expected behaviors
- Communicating policies and procedures and expectations around safety
- Positively recognizing staff members who identify and report safety issues
- Routinely review safety measures and inspect workplaces to ensure they comply.