Health & Safety Practices in Health Care Settings

By GLENNDA KAUFMANN, Director of Environmental Services, peopleCare, and Past-President of the Ontario Health-Care Housekeepers Association (OHHA)

The words Health and Safety have definitely been important words for many years, but as years go on, it means more and more. Envision what it meant to employees and employers 30 years ago. What does it mean today? Some of the changes have been staff education, awareness and responsibility. Health and Safety is not just the responsibility of the employer, but the employee has equal responsibility. We all share this role to keep everyone in our workplace safe every day.

Work safety is stressed and presented to staff all the time through TV, magazines, advertising on billboards, etc. If some of those commercials haven’t scared you, I am not sure what would.

WHMIS and PPE (glasses, gloves, earplugs, aprons/coats, or masks) have been huge changes implemented over the years. This includes manufacturers and suppliers, which are a huge piece to ensure staff safety. Eyewash stations are provided for staff to be able to access in an emergency. These are maintained in working order when needed. These stations need to be in places for easy accessibility in an emergency situation.

Infection control has become the importance of each and every person in all workplaces. We have been educated on proper hand hygiene, and many products have been introduced to help us stay clean and stop the spread of infection. Mask fitting is completed on every staff member and every two years after to ensure proper fit is maintained.

Heat stress is monitored and staff is educated to ensure they are resting and drinking plenty of fluids during hot weather conditions. Heat can be a serious concern if the body cannot cool itself down and slow down in the heat.

Workplace inspections are a mandatory part of our routine, which keeps the workplace a safe area for everyone. Records of these routines are required for Ministry of Labour inspections. Documentation of the monthly inspections are completed and the corrections of any findings are noted. The Health and Safety committee helps with these inspections. The committee can be helpful and powerful. The need for the proper members is necessary to have a meaningful and active committee that will help and support the staff.

Emergency preparedness is a practice for all staff and managers to understand, and practice what to do in any type of emergency. This is a very important education that needs to be clearly understood due to the critical outcome if it is not handled properly. There are many things that are covered in this such as fire, evacuation, medical emergency, missing resident, violent behavior, bomb threat, extreme weather, disaster contingency plan, internal chemical spill, external air contamination, hostage, intruder, etc. All situations are extremely important to practice. When staff has the knowledge they will react with confidence and save lives.

Work safety is stressed and presented to staff all the time through TV, magazines, advertising on billboards, etc. If some of those commercials haven’t scared you, I am not sure what would. The realistic accidents make you hurt just by watching them. They have been very effective in illustrating the importance of safe work habits. This is an area we need to dedicate our time and effort to help eliminate accidents in our workplace.

The environment is also part of Health and Safety, but there is much more we can do to help our long term plan as we are all responsible for our environment. Products we use are becoming greener all the time. To preserve the environment for our future is the area I feel we need to all work harder. Recycling our waste has become the household word, but we all need to get better at this. The wastage of chemicals, water, and products such as paper is definitely where we need to tighten our belts and always think about what we are doing. Hydro use is another area where we are all trying to upgrade our equipment and eliminate wastage as much as possible. What we do today will affect our environment in years to come.

Wellness is an area that we are concentrating on regularly to provide education, demonstrations, programs, etc. This keeps the staff informed or provided with the opportunity to try different things such as massage, hand waxing, therapy in-services, etc. Providing information from a dietician on well-balanced diets or specialty diets for staff to maintain an active body is provided. The importance of staff taking care of both inside and outside their bodies to keep themselves in good working order is important for health and safety. Driving safety is an area where your local police could discuss with staff such topics as women driving alone at night, winter driving, driving in fog or rain, and the safe use of cell phones in an emergency situation.

The more we can do to maintain and support staff wellness and safety, the better they will be able to perform their daily duties. This is a win-win situation for both the staff and the employer.