The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) notes hospitals and medical service organizations are among the most dangerous places to work and will require more than building modern systems: they will need a change in culture. In fact, injuries and illness occur at a rate higher than construction, manufacturing or consumer industry.

By way of example, in 2011 U.S. hospitals recorded 58,860 work-related injuries and illnesses causing employees to miss work. In lost time incidents, it is more dangerous to work for a hospital than a construction or manufacturing company.

One possible explanation is that medical services—unlike their counterparts in global industries—are late to the game installing the business systems and process necessary to support a concerted safety effort.

By way of contrast, global energy exploration and production have invested billions over the years and treat safety as the ticket to doing business in a global economy. In fact, expensive systems and processes are required to keep their legal and social licenses to operate. Setting the practical aside, every energy executive I’ve worked with will say investment in safety is also the right thing to do.

Even with this investment of time and money, accidents like the Gulf oil spill happen.

For a decade medical services have been on a mission to install platforms that support institutional safety and manage a future-directed at evidence-based medicine. Acquisitions of physician practices and of hospitals require unifying business systems that can also serve as platforms for reinforcing an environment of safety.

A New View of an Old Concern

We can learn something from those who went before us. Global industries have found that even the best business systems and processes fall short if injuries and incidents are systemic to the culture.

Systemic is defined as 1. Relating to or affecting the system as a whole; 2. Affecting the whole body as distinct from having a local effect; synonyms: universal, total, complete, and general.

Systemic safety can be defined as the intersection of excellent business systems, process safety procedures, and culture.

I believe a breakthrough in systemic safety is key to an enterprise transformation.

To Begin Leading a Culture Change

To begin a transformation of safety at the level of culture, it’s useful to question your own leadership:

  • In your hospital, does safety define culture or is it just one of several compensated measures?
  • Does a root cause investigation provide any insight into the overall system safety performance or only the incident at the site?
  • Could there be systemic variables (speed, number of patients, bonus rewards, traditions) that inadvertently encourage incidents?
  • Does your organization have cultural leanings to “the good old days” that elevate historical ways of acting senior to current good safety practices?
  • Do you even talk about systemic safety variables when safety is discussed?
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