Since 2005, Sault Area Hospital has reduced lost-time injuries by 91 per cent. Last year, over a seven-month period — or 1.2 million work hours — the hospital had no lost-time injuries at all.
Much of that success is due to the commitment of Ron Gagnon, president and CEO, to turn around the safety culture at the hospital, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. In 2006, local newspaper headlines read “18 deaths linked to C. difficile at SAH” and “Sault Hospital guilty of safety breaches” and those articles remain framed to this day in Gagnon’s office as a reminder of where the hospital came from and where it never wants to be again.
“We help each other to work safely. It’s not just a manager’s job; it’s not just a supervisor’s job. Everybody is looking out for each other when it comes to safety, which is really the goal,” he says.
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Gagnon sits on the joint health and safety committee himself and participates in monthly meetings and workplace inspections.
The hospital has been focusing on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which account for more than 60 per cent of its workplace incidents. Its ongoing strategy includes a full-time ergonomist, patient handling training for all nurses and a manual material handling program for staff whose jobs entail moving and lifting.
One new area the hospital decided to tackle head-on is psychological safety. Becky Chiarot, occupational health and safety officer, says 911 dispatchers were having emotional and psychological difficulties handling some of the calls.
“It’s important to recognize it’s not always a physical injury that is an issue,” she says. “(This is) a psychological injury, so we looked at how we could provide a holistic approach to help them deal with that.”
The hospital introduced training programs for dispatchers to educate them on recognizing the psychological hazards and identifying signs of distress in themselves and others. It also provided training in “mental health first aid” and applied suicide prevention.
The hospital has also devoted much attention recently to reviewing and revising its workplace violence strategy. Staff members are trained on de-escalating violent situations, and some have access to panic alarms. Additionally, employees in the mental health department wear personal alarms as part of their uniforms.
The hospital is also mitigating potential risks by modifying physical environments.
“We want to design environments in which patients can be treated safely and staff can retreat safely if they need to,” she says.
Gagnon says the 1,850-employee hospital looks at injuries not from the standpoint of statistics but from a people standpoint.
“The business we’re in is really a people business. It’s about people providing care for people. We want to ensure that those who come to work here never have to worry about being safe in their environment.”