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Back to school; Teach employees safety rules by following the rules of the classroom


October 1, 2019

By John Palmer

At the beginning of each school year, teachers spend a month or more getting students into the swing of things by introducing them to new classroom rules and habits, assigning an increasingly difficult workload, and filling out paperwork to help assess them and keep them safe should something happen.

The healthcare industry can learn from our tireless educators.

As a healthcare safety professional, you should be thinking on the same level as a classroom teacher, because safety should never become stagnant—it should be a constant presence in your facility. And because employees come and go, you will always be teaching new staff the ways of your workplace.
There will always be paperwork to fill out, protocols to put into place, and assessments to conduct, all to ensure your workers are following the directives you’ve created to keep patients and employees safe. At worst, you should take a good, hard look at your safety game once a year to verify everything is running smoothly. Here, we’ve assembled some common rules of the classroom along with some ideas of how to apply them to your facility.

Don’t run in the halls

This is one of the first things schoolchildren learn when they come to school. It’s the old adage of haste makes waste: If you try to do something too quickly, you’re likely to make a mistake.

Use this lesson to teach your workers to slow down in everything they do. It’s a crucial tenet in practicing sharps safety, for instance. After giving an injection, slow down and be mindful regarding what happens to the syringe. Cap it properly, place it in a “neutral” zone so no one else will touch it, and make sure it goes into the proper disposal receptacle. The same lesson can be used to help prevent and respond to workplace violence. Experts suggest that healthcare workers should be comfortable with de-escalation tactics to help calm an anxious or angry person down. A worker’s intervention could be the deciding factor that keeps a situation from getting out of control and leading to injury.

Put on your sneakers for gym class

The gym teacher is not going to allow Annie to play sports in her dress shoes. For one, her parents won’t be happy if they get dirty. But more importantly, sneakers are grippy for a reason: so that when Annie runs after the kickball, she won’t accidentally slip and hurt herself.

So why have so many adult healthcare workers failed to learn the lessons taught in the gym so many years ago? Slips, trips, and falls still cause the majority of injuries to healthcare workers in hospitals and medical facilities, and they usually occur because of improper footwear.

It’s time to insist that your workers wear the right shoes for the healthcare workplace—grippy and closed-toe, and with a reinforced toe box if possible. And just like your coach didn’t let you get in the game if you didn’t bring your sneakers, make it a rule that if your workers don’t show up dressed appropriately, they go home for the day. A couple of missed paychecks will convince them to take you seriously.

Never drink the chemicals under the sink

The classroom teacher keeps the bottles of hand soap and glue clearly labeled and stored under the sink or in the closet, out of reach. And just in case little Johnny happens to take a swig, the teacher knows what to do.

The same goes for the handling of hazardous chemicals in the facility, especially since you’re dealing with stuff that can cause real problems—like cancer—from minimal exposures.

This is one more reminder to up your game on your facility’s hazardous chemicals training. Take stock of all chemicals in the workplace, and make sure you and your staff know where the safety data sheets (SDS) are.

Teach everyone, especially the newbies, that the SDS is divided into 16 sections, each dedicated to various information about the chemical: firefighting, first aid, storage, hazards, and what to do in the event of exposure to the substance. In addition, the SDS system includes eight visual guides to workplace hazards, called pictograms; they consist of a black hazard symbol on a white background with a red border and are designed to be universally identifiable at a glance. The pictograms clearly identify hazards such as flames, carcinogens, corrosives, explosives, and environmental dangers.

SDSs make it much easier for your employees to identify the hazardous chemicals in your facility and quickly deliver first aid should there be a worker exposure. And if you’ve got a Johnny on staff with his heart set on quaffing chemicals, maybe take the crew out for a few drinks after training.

Ask lots of questions

Students are trained from a young age to question authority and to be inquisitive—it’s a major principle of the scientific method, which asks experimenters to come up with an essential question they want to answer.
The same should be taught to your new employees. Yes, it’s your responsibility to make sure they know the rules of the road, but there will inevitably be a thing or two you don’t cover. By inviting your employees to ask questions, you teach them that it’s safe to ask about something they don’t know.

Also, unlike the classroom, tattletales make for a safe environment in the healthcare facility. Create a culture where it’s OK for workers to question each other, and if necessary, to report unsafe workplace behaviors and practices.


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