Tom Smith, Psychological and Physical Safety Consultant, WWLHIN
I have worked in the field of health and safety for my entire career, initially in the chemical and automotive industries, then in all the subsectors of the health system. I joined the Waterloo Wellington LHIN earlier this year following a decision made by the Board of Directors to be the most physically and psychologically safe place to work. My goal is twofold: to make the Waterloo Wellington LHIN the most physically and psychologically safe place to work, and to do the same thing across the entire local health system.
I believe that keeping staff safe is an upstream requirement for keeping our patients safe. By reducing injuries across the whole health system, we are able to have more staff available for direct patient care. No one should go to work expecting they could be hurt on the job. Every health care worker should be able to go home safely every night so they are able to do their work the next day.
I often tell a story that shows how the health and safety of health care workers and patients are interconnected. It’s a personal story of a time when I was a patient myself and two health care workers were assisting me up to get up and walk. I’m over six feet tall and the women who were assisting me were petite. It just so happened that I worked at the same place where I was receiving care and I was responsible for the health and safety program for staff. I saw first-hand a situation where two staff were not following the systems and processes that were in place to keep them and myself safe. So, unsteady on my feet I told the staff that I was concerned about which person I would fall on if my legs gave out. They got the hint for the next time they came to assist me to walk.
We want all health care workers to feel safe when they come to work rather than going to work and not knowing if they will get hurt by patients or the workplace. It’s important to be aware of the risks that health care workers are facing and to set standards regarding what is acceptable. It comes down to knowing what to expect and being prepared. We are working directly with employers, unions, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Labour to develop practical tools to reduce the risk of injury to health care workers.
Some time ago, I worked for an organization where we were able to reduce health and safety incidents by 30 percent in one year which was a tremendous improvement. Our goal is to make similar big gains across the Waterloo Wellington LHIN. We’ve started with policy and procedure development, as well as education and training. We’ve just implemented driver safety training for all staff because we know that driving is a significant source of injury for employees across all LHINs. At the end of the day, we want everyone to get safely to and from work, and to feel physically and psychologically safe when they get there.