As per the mandates by the government every company, organization and enterprise, irrelevant of its size has to take proper precautions to ensure that the health and safety of the employees is safeguarded. To save the interests of the workers and make this responsibility of the employers bound by law, the government in all the countries has established the Health and Safety Act. This legislation provides and sets the rights and obligations of both the employers and the employees in a workplace and also provides for penalties and fines in case of any breach of the health and safety legislation. This act or law applies on every person who is associated with a workplace in some manner or the other.
It applies to all employees (including the fixed term employees and the employees who have been hired for a temporary period) and even the self employed persons in their own workplaces. The act which governs the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees with regard to the health and safety at the workplace is updated from time to time and new legislations added to it frequently so that there are no loopholes in its governance. This law or legislation also applies to all the industries and sectors like information technology, manufacturing, healthcare etc. For the purpose of this essay, the implementation of the health and safety legislation in the health care sector would be evaluated and studied.
1.1 People who work in the health care sector are exposed dangers and threats of various kinds on a daily basis which could prove to be harmful for their health in the long run. Therefore, it becomes necessary and even critical to implement this legislation to avoid any accidents or long term illnesses to as much of an extent as possible. The first aspect of the health care industry in which the health and safety legislation is implemented is the physical workplace itself. Most of the places in which health care workers carry out their tasks and jobs are a great variety of hazards, which can be seen in any hospital or clinic that one visits. Making sure that the workplace is safe from such hazards is the first area in which the legislation is implemented. This is generally done by marking out areas where there are dangerous objects or where potentially harmful things are stored. Only authorized personnel are allowed entry into this area so that other people might not wander in by mistake and expose themselves to this danger.
Other threats related to a health care workplace that can be observed are biological risks such as infections caused because of needle stick injuries, chemical risks which can be caused because of handling of drugs and disinfectants, physical risks, ergonomical risks and even psychosocial risks which can be caused because of violence at work or due to any other reason that causes stress or trauma. Once these risks have been identified, every health care institute or workplace management is liable to implement the health and safety legislation and take suitable steps to make sure that the staff is protected from them. Trainings and orientations are a major part of this initiative where doctors, nurses and caregivers are told about the correct procedure to handle patients and surgical procedures so that they put themselves at minimum risk.
Communication of the policies, systems and procedures which are related to workplace health and safety is very important. This is the duty of every employer to communicate the Health and Safety mandates to the employees. This includes both verbal communication as well as graphical communication. Verbal communication would encompass spreading the message through word of mouth and by face to face interactions. Graphical communication involves the signs and boards which are placed throughout the premises which inform the people about exit doors, exit strategies etc.
Workers, even inside hospitals and health care facilities are most of the time not familiar with the appropriate actions that must be taken in the face of an emergency like a workplace accident or injury. Workers should also be made aware of the risks that they face by at the workplace and about emergency action plans. Even written communication can be very effective which involves sharing information with the employees through notice boards, emails, circulars and drafting of memos.
Some of the essential points that employers must keep in mind to ensure health and safety of the workers are:
- A list of all the hazardous substances which are used in the workplace should be displayed especially in areas where they have been stored
- A safety data sheet should be properly maintained in which employees should enter details when the use a hazardous substance
- The containers of all hazardous materials and chemicals must be properly labeled at all times as well as pharmaceutical items like medicines and solvents.
- Periodical risk assessments of the workplace must be conducted and the results should be shared with employees.
- Workers should be assessed periodically to evaluate their health and to discuss any health issue that they might be facing.
- A worker information manual must be prepared which contains all the information about standard procedures in case of emergency, roles and responsibilities of the employees in relation to health and safety and also emergency contact person details
- Encourage employees to report any incident that occurs which might endanger the health and safety of other members and even patients in the health care facility. Employees must also be familiar with the control measures and the chain of command or reporting.
1.2 On the part of the management there are certain factors which they need to keep in mind to keep their employees safe. The management should also be aware of its own responsibilities towards the employees.
- The management should arrange to provide proper training to the employees in which all hazardous substances, danger areas etc are enumerated.
- It is the responsibility of the management to provide and maintain a safe workplace where only safe equipments are used.
- Proper measure should be taken to prevent any potential risk from the use of any article or substance which may be dangerous or harmful and from exposure of the employees to physical agents, vibrations or noise.
- Conduct of the employees must be kept in check so that their behavior does not expose them to any kind of threat.
- The clothing that is given to employees should not place them in risk of physical harm
- A competent safety officer should be hired by the management to supervise the health and safety implementations in the workplace.
1.3 Every workplace, especially those that are related to the health care sector and social sector must be able to list all the priorities which are specific to their workplace. The first priority should be to maintain a psychosocial work environment wherein there are provisions for the employees to be able to adjust to the changes that keep happening at the work place and what its impact can be on their health and safety; work life balance is also a part of this. The management can also intervene from time to time especially when it is felt that stress at work place has increased or if there is any physical or mental violence. The second priority for the management should be avoidance of any musculoskeletal disorders. To ensure this, specific tools should be developed which can assess the total overload on the body’s musculoskeletal system. The management should also develop proper methods or evaluation techniques, intervention methods and also take precautionary measures in this regard. The third priority for a health care organization should be hazardous and dangerous substances. Employees should be prevented from exposure to such materials and biological agents, nano-particles and ultrafine particles etc. The next priority of the management should be OSH management. This should include cost assessment for implementing an OSH plan in the organization and its expected impact on the quality of work.
2.1 In all these precautions and measures that have been discussed about maintaining a healthy and safe workplace in the health care sector, risk assessment has been specifically considered as very important. Assessment of the workplace from the point of view of potential hazards and dangers is a very effective method of drawing strategies which can help prevent harm to the employees. Information which is gained from these risk assessments help the management and the planning authorities to identify areas which have been left unsupervised or for which no appropriate method of monitoring has been developed. By ensuring that a risk assessment of the workplace is carried out by experts periodically, the management will be in a much better position to evaluate where it is following the correct procedure and where the measures taken by them are still lacking. A risk assessment might reveal that although a list of hazardous substances has been drawn and shared by the employees there is still not supervision on its use which can be a cause of concern. So the management can now implement a suitable method to monitor the use of such substances. (Guidelines for the implementation of OHSAS 18001)
2.2 There are various aspects about the health and safety precautions which should be observed at the workplace. They have an impact on not just the employees and the workers but also on the customers who come to such organizations. One such aspect which is always kept in check is preventing employees from coming to the workplace after they have consumed alcohol or have taken any kind of drug. From the point of view of the organization this one aspect of health and safety is followed very strictly because it endangers not just the person who has consumed it but also those around him. Especially in case of the health care and social industry, the employees are the caregivers who look after the customer or the patients. If they are under the influence of alcohol or any such drug then their capacity to impart such care and to take decisions related to the patients’ health gets impaired which puts the patients at risk. Also the person who has consumed and is under the influence of such substances loses control over his or her own behavior which is another violation of the health and safety act. It is because of these reasons that such conducts on the part of the employees are taken very seriously by the management. (Systems in Focus, 2003)
2.3 For the management and the team of senior members who are responsible for planning the implementation of all health and safety related policies and procedures, it is always important to consider all the aspects before they come to a conclusion. This often results in dilemmas about the correct course of action which leads to improper implementation of the policies. However, the correct approach would be to leave out no loopholes and to safeguard the interest of the customers and the employees. For example, in case of a health care center, relatives and visitors are often a problem and in many cases there are reports about assaults on employees by relatives of the patient. In such cases, although these is a dilemma because visitors cannot be stopped from coming in to the facility, proper steps and measures can be taken to ensure that the employees are safe and not exposed to any threats. The management should consider this first as the health and safety of the employees is its first responsibility. This can be done by imparting proper training to all staff in conflict management so that they are in a position to diffuse violent situations, ensuring that all procedures are followed and also by providing the staff with alarm systems which can ensure a rapid response in case of emergencies.
2.4 However it has been observed that after so much of awareness about following health and safety regulations, there are many instances when the policies and procedures get violated. Such instances of non-compliance have drastic and long term effects which can even cause employees to be put at very serious risks of permanent damage. These damages can be of a physical nature where the body or organs of an employee get affected. This can be due to an accident at the work place, excessive load on the musculoskeletal system or violence at the workplace. In other cases the damage can be caused due to exposure to a dangerous and harmful substance. Apart from an individual, even masses can be exposed to potential threats if proper care is not taken about health and safety. Apart from the damage that will be caused to an individual in the form of physical and mental trauma, the organization might face numerous lawsuits for violation of the health and safety codes where the management might be fined, penalized or even imprisoned for non-compliance. The image of the health care facility might be impacted and it might lose its goodwill among the people.
3.1 When it comes to monitoring and reviewing the health care procedures periodical risk assessments play a very important part. Regular review of the policies and procedures is necessary so that the organization or the health care center can have an effective response system in place and so that the employees can be provided training and orientation accordingly. (Successful health and safety management, 1997)
3.2 By promoting a healthy and safe workplace, the working efficiency of the employees can be improved to a large degree. Some of the methods by which these practices can be promoted are encouraging participation of the employees in improving work organization, regular exercises and physical activity to keep them fit, active involvement in implementation of these policies and consulting the employees as well. This makes the employees aware of not just the measures being taken by the organization but also their responsibilities which make for a healthy work culture.
3.3 On a personal level, there have been various steps taken to ensure that the safety needs of the individuals have been the center of the practice. Regular exercise before and during work has been encouraged to avoid muscular strain and trauma. Periodically the individuals are consulted and asked to report about any health related problem that they might be facing. Consumption of alcohol, exposure or consumption of drugs and any other harmful material which falls in this category has been strictly prohibited and individuals are encouraged to understand the harm that these substances can cause to the body of the individual and how they can prove to be harmful for those around the individual. Behavior of the persons at the workplace is also monitored and kept under check. Proper clothing and safety equipments have been provided so that the risk of harm from certain medical procedures can be avoided.
Guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems, International Labor Office, Geneva, ILO - OSH 2001
Successful health and safety management (2nd edition), HSG 65, HSE Books, London 1997, ISBN 0 7176 1276 7.
Strategies to promote safe behavior as part of a health and safety management system, Health and Safety Executive, UK, Contract Research Report 430/2002
BS 8800: 2004 Guide to occupational health and safety management systems, British Standards Institution, London.
Occupational health and safety management systems – Specification, OHSAS 18001:1999 and Guidelines for the implementation of OHSAS 18001, OHSAS 18002:2000, National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI)
Systems in Focus – guidance on occupational safety and health management systems, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, UK, 2003