Safety Culture in Healthcare Settings

John Howard M.D. Director National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

John Howard M.D.
National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health

As of 2019, nearly 22 million people, 13.8 % of the United States workforce, were employed in the Healthcare and Social Assistance (HCSA) industry sector in private and public industries of which 18,271,000 million people worked in healthcare settings.  For healthcare workers, these industries include hospitals, ambulatory care clinics, nursing and residential care settings, occupational/employee health settings, home health, schools, and other work settings where clinical care is provided. The HCSA industries reported more than 653,100 work-related injuries and illness in 2019 representing almost 19% of the total for all industries. Healthcare workers are at risk of injuries and illnesses because of exposure to infectious agents such as influenza, coronaviruses, and mycobacterium tuberculosis, hazardous drugs and chemical agents such as antineoplastic agents, surgical smoke, and disinfectants, physical agents such as radiation, and environmental and psychosocial hazard issues such as heavy lifting, repetitive tasks, violence, bullying, shiftwork, long work hours, and fatigue.

The safety and health of our nation’s healthcare workers are high priority imperatives where a culture of safety is a core and committed value of health care organizations. Safety culture demonstrates a shared and collaborative commitment of management and workers for a safe and healthy work environment. This means workplaces must implement, monitor, and support safe work practices through effective policies and procedures that identify, mitigate, and eliminate occupational hazards. Key factors to an effective safety culture include strong support from organizational leadership, recognition of high-risk work, provision of adequate resources for staff at all levels in the organization, extensive and targeted training for safety actions across disciplines, shared responsibility and accountability for safe practices, and healthcare worker input into safety culture policies and practice implementation. Therefore, the intent of this course is to provide science and evidence-based information to increase knowledge about work-related hazards and their prevention, and strategies to promote a safe and healthful work environment. This course offers continuing education units free of charge for completion of the training.

A group of practitioners developed this course with extensive input and review from safety and health professionals, labor representatives, educators, and researchers. The course content addresses six competencies, including safety culture in healthcare settings, common work-related hazards, prevention and control of occupational injury and illness risks in healthcare environments, leadership and sustainment of a safe workplace, legal parameters and ethical considerations for safe working conditions, and utilization of resources to help maintain a safe work environment. Additionally, this course provides case studies to further explore and apply knowledge concepts.

We hope this course will provide an opportunity for healthcare workers to learn more about the importance of safe work and the need to promote a culture of safety in the workplace for themselves, co-workers, and those who benefit from their care.

Page last reviewed: April 28, 2022