Stand up and take credit for cost avoidance due to reg compliance

'Too often, management doesn't know what you do.'

Non-compliance with state or federal regulations can put a company out of business even faster than escalating health care costs. But too often, the important role played by occupational health in facilitating compliance is not understood by senior leaders.

"Human resources and operations professionals need to recognize the true potential of occupational health, and not view us as strictly 'medical' people," says Melissa J. LeBlanc, BSN, RN, CCM, COHN-S, a contract occupational health nurse administrator for the U.S. Postal Service. "Nurses are sophisticated critical thinkers. They should be recognized as such."

It's true that some occupational health professionals do a good job of making their role in compliance clear, "but this isn't the norm," according to Patricia B. Strasser, PhD, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, president of Partners in BusinessHealth Solutions, an occupational health consulting firm in Toledo, OH.

People may know that you're involved in requirements for bloodborne pathogens or respiratory protection, but probably don't realize your involvement in regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act. "Too often, management doesn't know what you do down there," says Strasser. Here are ways to emphasize your role in compliance:

Prepare an annual report.

When outlining your accomplishments, include cost avoidance of fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, or other entities. "Too often, occupational health is not treated like other departments. They don't have annual goals and objectives like the marketing or quality departments do," says Strasser. "Take every opportunity you can to show you are saving the company money."

Track all your activities, categorize them, and attach either cost savings or cost avoidance to each one. "You need to be thinking of all the things you do, even if you do it only once a year," says Strasser.

Make a list of all the things you do that are required by law. "If you are in a heavily regulated industry, this works particularly well," says Linda K. Glazner, DrPH, RN, COHN-S, CCM, FNP, FAAOHN, an occupational health consultant with Linda K. Glazner & Associates in Wausau, WI. "If the company outsourced each of these activities — if you had [Department of Transportation] exams done by a physician in the community--how much would it cost?"

In fact, higher-ups may be surprised to learn how heavily involved you are in regulatory compliance. Glazner advises keeping track of what percentage of employees come to see you for something related to regulatory requirements. Also, show the cost savings that come about when employees come in for something unrelated, but you take the opportunity to address compliance.

A worker may come to be fit for a respirator, but at the same visit, you can obtain additional information used for compliance with another regulation as an in-house occupational health resource. "An outsider would not do that, and that person would be called out of work again," says Glazner.

Network with others.

When it comes to continuous compliance with regulations, "there is no way to know everything. Networking is key," says Margie Matsui, BSN, RN, CRRN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, programs administrator for central health services at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, CA. "It is not just being aware of changes. It is acting as a resource for interpretation, so a business response can be made. It all boils down to making a requirement easier for others who have additional hats."

Expand your role.

Your role in compliance may need to be expanded. Strasser gives the example of bloodborne pathogens. "I've seen places where the EMT is the one doing the annual training that is required, even though the company has an occupational health nurse," she says. "You may need to get more involved in that, or more involved with your respiratory protection program. In these tight times, you've got to be sure you are value added."

SOURCES

For more information on the occupational health role in regulatory compliance, contact:

• Melissa J. LeBlanc, BSN, RN, CCM, COHN-S, Occupational Health Nurse Administrator for the US Postal Service. Phone: (401) 276-6845. E-mail: melissa.j.leblanc@usps.gov.

• Linda K. Glazner, DrPH, RN, COHN-S, CCM, FNP, FAAOHN, Linda K. Glazner & Associates, Wausau, WI. Phone: (715) 849-1776. Fax: (715) 849-2840. E-mail: Glazner2@aol.com

• Patricia B. Strasser, PhD, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, Partners in BusinessHealth Solutions, Inc, Toledo, OH. Phone: (419) 882-0342. Fax: (419) 843-2623. E-mail: pbsinc@prodigy.net

• Emily Wallace, RN, BS, COHN-S, Occupational Health Consultant, Sanford, NC. E-mail: wwallace7@charter.net