healthcare employee safetyHealthcare is one of the most hazardous industries for its workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more workers are injured in the healthcare and social industry sector than any other. Makes sense, right? Contagious diseases, spilled blood, frantic patients, life-or-death emergencies, etc., can all impact healthcare employee safety.

However, the high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses in healthcare isn’t due to patient-employee interaction alone. Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common workplace injuries. Understanding why safety issues occur in organizations allows you to leverage the talent management lifecycle to help maximize employee safety.

Make Strategic Hiring Choices to Impact Employee Safety

Employees in the inherently chaotic and serious environment of healthcare can deliver exceptional care on a consistent basis, or they can fail because of poor employee safety skills. Exhaustion, distraction, long shifts, carelessness — these factors can all lead to poor safety choices. But hiring the right people in the first place — and having strong safety parameters in place that are consistently reinforced — makes all the difference.

“There are a number of ways to determine if an applicant has a history of good safety practices,” says Dr. Frederick Morgeson, HealthcareSource Scientific Advisor and Eli Broad Professor of Management at Michigan State University. “The key is to understand how they have behaved in past jobs, particularly as it pertains to safety-related behaviors.” Ask applicants about their experience with specific safety-related associated behaviors, such as past practices of:

  • Following safety procedures
  • Wearing personal protective equipment
  • Which safety practices are needed in different situations

An applicant’s responses “would help you understand their past behavior as well as their understanding of when and why safety behavior is needed,” says Morgeson. You will also get a sense of an applicant’s personality as it relates to safety, whether they’re a conscientious rule-follower, the extent to which a person helps others to behave safely, and the likelihood of an applicant speaking up when they observe behavior or actions that are inappropriate or unsafe.

Additional methods that contribute to painting a clear picture of a job candidate’s approach to and thoughts about safety in the workplace can include a behavioral assessment given during the recruiting process, a structured interview, skills testing, and a reference assessment where past colleagues and supervisors are asked safety-related questions.

“There is considerable evidence that these kinds of assessments work and provide real insight into applicant competencies and future work-related behavior,” says Morgeson.

A Culture of Employee Safety Starts at the Top

There is plenty that institutions can do to reinforce a critical focus on employee safety in a healthcare environment. “Healthcare organizations must be intentional about their leadership culture and not just allow it to be crafted by chance,” says James Jiloty, an HR advisor with Healthcare Performance Solutions & Success Profiles in Ormond Beach, Florida, and former HR leader in a hospital with 4,000-plus employees. “Safety is a quality standard that must always come first, before quality, before compassion, and even before profits. I make safety a priority by beginning every meeting with a safety story. This keeps my team connected to our quality standards and operating at a high level, just as we expect our physicians and nurses to perform.”

Morgeson asserts that an organization’s leadership ranks set the tone, emphasize, and reinforce the value of safety practices, serving as key role models for a positive healthcare safety culture among employees.

Integrate Safety into Performance Management

“Hiring and developing managers so they are willing and able to encourage and reinforce a strong safety culture is essential,” says Morgeson. “This would start with the hiring process, making sure you are using leadership assessments that enable the assessment of key safety-related competencies.”

HR practices can help emphasize and encourage a positive safety culture for developing leaders and rank-and-file employees. Morgeson recommends the following:

  • Continual feedback and employee safety training
  • The incorporation of safety-related evaluations in the formal performance management system
  • Creation of a system that enables employees to learn from each other so minor errors do not become major failures
  • Linking safety performance to the formal reward system

Ultimately, a part of your goal should be to hire those who have a history of consistent patient and employee safety practices. You also want to dig deep and determine if job candidates have the inherent behavioral competencies that support a safe healthcare environment. Are they willing to learn how to stay safe and do the same for colleagues and their shared environment? Do they use critical thinking rather than acting too quickly at the risk of their own well-being or the well-being of others? Is service excellence second nature to them?

Trust in the intelligence provided by behavioral and reference assessments to recruit talent with an eye for safety and the competencies and motivation to provide high-quality patient experiences.

Are you interested in learning more about recruiting a Patient-Centered Workforce? Download our How-To Guide: Build a Patient-Centered Workforce: How to Select, Align, Develop, and Continuously Retain Highly Engaged People!

Download How to Improve Patient Care: 3 Steps to Recruit and Retain Great Healthcare Leaders


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About Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss is a freelance writer and web content specialist. Her bread and butter is crafting web pages and blog posts for professional clients, but her feature articles have also appeared in Forbes, Marie Claire, Avvo, and other print and online publications. She lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children and is often surrounded by Legos, dark chocolate, and library books. Learn more about Elizabeth at