• With an eye on keeping employees safe and reducing costs, Rome Memorial Hospital has successfully implemented a number of programs which have resulted in a 29 percent reduction in workplace injuries so far this year.

    According to Rome Memorial Hospital Director of Risk Management Deborah Sherwood RN, CPHRM, the hospital has embraced a culture of safety which starts with management and works its way to every employee.

    “The safety of our employees has always been at the forefront of our minds at Rome Memorial Hospital,” Sherwood said. “We have created a safety and health management program that focuses on getting all personnel involved in taking a proactive approach to preventing injuries. The concept of workplace safety is also presented to all new employees as part of the orientation process.”

    “Our management has done a fantastic job of identifying and supplying the right tools to help keep our employees safe, but the ultimate credit has to go to the workers themselves,” Sherwood continued. “Our employees are playing an active role in identifying areas of need and are utilizing the tools which are provided.”


     Casey Coon, RN, BSN, left and Sheila Beaulac, RN, far right, learn about the proper way to use a HoverMatt to transfer Susan Zylinsky, RN, from one bed to another during a recent ergonomics fair at Rome Memorial Hospital as Chris Craigmile, a safe patient handling specialist for Craigmile Corp looks on. The HoverMatt, which inflates to allow safe and strain-free trensfers is just one of the tools the hospital is using to help reduce workforce injuries by 29 percent so far this year.


    As reported by the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the nature of the healthcare industry puts many workers at risk. 

    One major source of injury to healthcare workers is musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to a 2010 OSHA report, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of MSDs of any industry. The rate of occurrence, 249 per 10,000 workers, was more than seven times the average for all industries. By comparison, the average rate for all workers was 34 per 10,000 workers, while traditionally hazardous occupations, construction laborers (85.0), freight, stock and material movers (154.9), also lagged far behind nursing.

    MSDs are in large part caused by overexertion related to repeated manual patient handling activities, often involving heavy lifting associated with transferring and repositioning patients and working in extremely awkward postures.

    Sherwood stated that one way the hospital is working to help employees avoid injury is through an ergonomics committee which is dedicated to providing employees with the proper tools and education to create a safer work environment. “Our committee visits every area of the hospital doing safety rounding to make sure our employees are aware of available resources, identify any barriers to safety and provide any additional training,” she said.

    One focus for the committee has been identifying and avoiding preventable injuries including repetitive use injuries and those caused by lifting objects using improper form and/or without the aide of safe lifting equipment when indicated.

    “Lifting any object improperly creates the potential for injury, so we have focused our attention on educating our workforce on the importance of using proper form and techniques,” Sherwood continued. “We have also invested in numerous tools which our staff can use to assist when lifting our patients or other potentially heavy objects.”

    The hospital has also collaborated with the risk team at insurance group Gilroy, Kernan & Gilroy (GKG) in developing their plan.

    “I work with many organizations that want to develop a workplace environment where the staff and management can work as one to make gains in patient safety, quality of care, reduction in staff injury and improved employee wellness,” said David Lyman, risk manager for GKG. “The motive behind most culture change initiatives is to make improvements to the bottom line. However, at Rome Memorial Hospital the main reason for embracing the safety culture is to ensure the safest environment for its patients, residents, visitors and employees.”

    Lyman praised the hospital’s administration and staff for their willingness to embrace change. “The culture of safety has become integrated within the processes and practices, the staff and management are working collectively to ensure the best outcomes possible.”

    In addition to training provided to employees and investing in the latest equipment which aids in tasks such as lifting patients from one bed to another, the hospital is developing a safe patient handling and mobility committee to keep both patients and employees safe.

    “At 20 percent, strains and sprains are our most frequent injuries,” Sherwood explained. “Transporting patients can be challenging for a number of reasons, but by collaborating with staff and management, we are identifying the best possible solutions which work to keep everyone safe.”

    The hospital has also made huge strides in reducing injuries caused by violence. “Violent episodes can happen for any number of reasons including intoxication, drug abuse episodes, mental health issues or agitation,” Sherwood said. “While many of these episodes are unavoidable, we have provided specialized training which teaches how to recognize a potentially hazardous situation and de-escalation techniques to all employees who work in high risk areas such as the emergency department.”

    OSHA reports that workplace injuries and illnesses have a major impact on an employer's bottom line. It has been estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers' compensation costs alone.

    While reducing costs and absenteeism is important to the hospital, Sherwood maintains that the financial gains are only part of the reason for the many changes being made and creating a culture of safety.

    “Keeping workers safe and healthy isn’t just about the bottom line for the hospital,” she concluded. “When someone is injured and unable to do the things they love, it affects their quality of life. Our co-workers are our friends and family, so when someone suffers an injury, it can be felt across the entire organization.”