When it comes to strong workplace safety policies and procedures, many medical practices are coming up short.
That’s according to Woody Hill, vice president of loss control at Employers, a specialty provider of workers’ compensation insurance for small businesses, who recently spoke with Physicians Practice.
“The mandate for the OSHA program is to reach out to small businesses, but small business typically don’t get that message” due to lack of outreach, said Hill, a former OSHA inspector.
As a result, many practices don’t find out what they need to do to comply with workplace safety requirements until it’s too late. “When there’s a problem, a complaint, or an inspection because an employee was injured on the job, an OSHA inspector is there to investigate, that’s typically when [practices] get their first information around what the requirements are to comply,” he said.
Strong workplace policies and procedures are critical at all practices because employee injuries come at a heavy cost, said Hill. And he’s not just referring to higher insurance premiums. “This is their workforce, folks that come to work every day,” he said. “They need to be sent home in the same condition that they arrived in.”
Here are some of Hill’s tips to ensure workplace safety is a top priority at your practice:
1. Get help. Talk to your insurance carrier and see what resources it can provide, such as a pamphlet or core workplace safety program to follow. Also, don’t hesitate to use OSHA as a resource. “A lot of employers are wary of bringing in a regulatory agency, but OSHA is mandated to support free consultations to any employer,” said Hill.
2. Have written programs in place. Practices, like any small businesses, “need to have a program that they are adhering to that’s identified as an injury and illness prevention program, or a safety program,” said Hill. The program should include steps to control safety issues relative to your practice, identify who will manage your workplace safety program, lay out a training and education program, etc.
3. Brief the safety officer. Often practices will assign the safety officer role to a staff member who lacks adequate knowledge and experience, said Hill. “The best way to get that experience is to reach out to your insurance manager,” he said. “Have them come out and look for hazards they can identify and give you recommendations on how to correct those hazards. At this point, the risk of bringing in anybody is that they’re going to find things that you have to comply to.”
4. Communicate and educate. Successful workplace safety programs include staff members in discussions about safety issues, said Hill. “They make them a part of the process, and that’s a core value that they put in place in their own practices.” Also, ensure staff members know what to do if an injury occurs and who to report it to.
5. Be prepared. “Let’s say a physicians group does have an OSHA visit, how do they manage that?” said Hill. “They should understand the rules and regulations around occupational safety, but they should also have an escalation process in place on how to manage a situation like that.” A good way to prepare is by having a company policy on how to respond to an inspection, training employees on how to respond, identifying who will handle the inspection, and ensuring your safety program is up-to-date.
Overall, keep in mind that your workplace safety program “shouldn’t just be a program that’s designed to prevent losses to save money,” said Hill. “The program should be holistic. They should look at the overall well-being of their practice, their staff, and how they can communicate that to prevent injuries.”