Collaborate with safety, or resentment may grow

It's a natural next step

As an occupational health professional, you already possess a wealth of knowledge on the importance of a safe work environment, and the necessary skills to address pertinent safety issues.

"Occupational health provides services that cross the safety boundary. It seems a natural next step that the occupational health role evolves to include safety management," says Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, an occupational health nurse at PureSafety in Franklin, TN.

When safety and occupational health professionals work together effectively, this can result in high-quality programs, a safer workplace, and improved health care delivery.

"This is cost-effective, and aids in reducing injuries and illnesses," says Dayvault. "Safe and supportive work environments can only be realized through mutual efforts of all team members, especially health and safety members."

A positive relationship

Occupational health professionals typically have a positive relationship with employees. "This makes it much easier to learn what is really going on in the workplace, as the worker is more likely to share information," says Dayvault.

This relationship provides you with an opportunity. You can share pertinent information with safety professionals, but be sure to maintain confidentiality.

"Safety professionals who do not understand the standards and laws that govern nursing practice may become angry, or even feel that occupational health is withholding pertinent information which is needed to be known," says Dayvault.

The two professionals may begin to resent each other. "This is more likely to occur in a company which may be struggling financially and faced with downsizing," says Dayvault. "Companies may also desire input from occupational health when a safety program is seen as ineffective. Occupational health may be viewed as an enemy instead of an alliance."

Good conflict resolution skills will come in handy here. "Communication is a key factor in developing a positive relationship with the safety professional, and dealing with opposite views," says Dayvault. "It is important that both health and safety professionals understand personal feelings that each bring to partnering together in the workplace."

Here are Dayvault's recommendations to improve safety relationships:

• Hold regular staff meetings with pertinent individuals.

"This assists in keeping the focus on work objectives," says Dayvault.

• Avoid too much competition.

Competition can be a good thing. "But it has a downside of winning an assumed prize 'at any cost,' while losing sight of the importance of the partnership," says Dayvault.

• Obtain certifications in safety.

Dayvault recommends looking into the Safety Manager credential offered by the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses. "This helps you to lay the necessary groundwork to move toward the Certified Safety Professional Certification," she says. "These credentials speak to non-nursing safety professionals, as verification of possessing the needed knowledge to address workplace safety processes."

• Keep fiscal benefits in mind.

Remember that a good relationship with safety means a positive impact on the company's bottom line, ROI and profit margin. "This cannot occur when competition between the two professionals obscures the goals and objectives of partnering together," adds Dayvault.

• Don't ignore the safety professional's expertise.

"Each professional brings their own unique experiences and backgrounds in providing successful workplace safety and health programs," says Dayvault.