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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Joint Commission: You can’t have patient safety without health care worker safety

The silos that separate patient safety and worker safety are coming down. Preventing medical errors and protecting health care workers are part of the same continuum, The Joint Commission accrediting body asserts in a new monograph.

For employee health professionals, growing recognition of the link between worker safety and patient safety may mean greater collaboration, more support from hospital leadership, and enhanced resources.

“To be a truly safe environment, you have to be safe for patients, workers and everyone who enters the facility,” says Barbara Braun, PhD, project director of the Department of Health Services Research at The Joint Commission, which is based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL.

Raising awareness of the link between patient and worker safety also is a top strategic goal of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) council for Healthcare and Social Assistance. NORA brings stakeholders together to create a research framework for industry sectors for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“We decided the best way to [improve occupational health in health care] was to address explicitly the interface between patient safety and worker safety,” says Eileen Storey, MD, MPH, co-chair of the Healthcare and Social Assistance NORA council and branch chief for surveillance in the NIOSH Division of Respiratory Disease Studies in Morgantown, WV.

The Joint Commission focus on worker as well as patient safety does not involve any new standards and it doesn’t change the way surveys are conducted, says Braun. But it does reflect a broadening of the approach to safety.

There are other signs of The Joint Commission’s focus. A sentinel event alert on fatigue in 2011 raised concerns about the impact of extended work hours on patient and worker safety, and in 2010 a sentinel event alert highlighted violence in hospitals. In October 2012, the EC News, an environment of care newsletter published by Joint Commission Resources Inc., wrote about using the OSHA 300 log to reduce work-related injuries and illnesses.

The nation’s hospitals should get this message, says Melissa A. McDiarmid, MD, MPH, DABT, director of the Occupational Health Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, who served as an advisor on the monograph.

“The ideas of silos of safety have to now give way to systems of safety,” she says.

--Michele Marill

For the full story on this important issue see the January 2013 issue of Hospital Employee Health