How to get employees to 'buy-in' to safety program

From TB skin tests and immunizations to use of safety devices, it's often a struggle to convince health care workers to comply with the rules and policies that are designed to keep them safe from harm. There are no easy answers, but employee health experts offer these tips:

  • Make it easy to comply. Employees make a quick cost-benefit decision. Even a minute or two may seem unacceptable to them while they're busy with patient care, says Robyn Gershon, MS, DrPH, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. You need to focus on efficiency. Ceiling lifts, which are always available, will bring better compliance than lifts stored in a closet down the hall. Flu immunizations offered in their unit will receive a better response from HCWs than immunizations offered in the cafeteria or some other central location.
  • Get managers onboard. Employees will respond to the priorities of their supervisors. If they perceive that safety is important, then they may be more willing to take the extra steps necessary to protect themselves. Also, a positive supervisor-employee relationship is linked to lower injury rates, says Pat Stone, PhD, MPH, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Columbia.
  • Provide adequate training. A one-time demonstration of the new lift or needle device may not be enough for everyone. You should make sure that employees are comfortable with new safety equipment, experts say. For example, at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa in Mason City nurses receive competency testing every year on patient handling equipment.
  • Change equipment, if necessary. If you check your sharps disposal boxes and find a particular device is not often activated, maybe there's a reason. Solicit input from nurses or phlebotomists and find out if they're dissatisfied with a product. Feedback to vendors about a product can sometimes lead to improvements in product design.
  • Find a link with patient care. Health care workers put their patients first. If you make it clear that by protecting themselves, they also are protecting their patients, they may be more likely to comply. You also may want to emphasize patient comfort when introducing new equipment. For example, some patients appreciate the stability provided by mechanical lifts rather than the hands of multiple caregivers.
  • Avoid a punitive approach. It's tempting to crack down on employees who don't use safety equipment, but take care not to drive some issues "underground." You don't want to create an atmosphere in which employees are afraid to report injuries, says Gershon. In some cases, a tough approach may be warranted. For example, many hospitals require employees to receive their annual TB screen before they can have their annual performance evaluation or raise.