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Safety and Health Management Systems in the Healthcare Industry

Aug 28, 2017 03:05PM ● By The Hood Magazine

By: Gbenga Ogungbe, ASP, MS, MPH

The healthcare industry is a broad sector that includes different types of establishments and facilities where healthcare services are delivered to meet the health needs of people.

Due mainly to an aging population, technological advances in patient care, and societal demands, the healthcare industry has been growing at an expansive rate. It is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans is employed by the healthcare sector, with approximately 16 million new job postings, generating about $2.7 trillion yearly [about 1/6 the total US gross domestic product (GDP)], according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS)1. Conversely, the cost of running healthcare institutions is enormous, a situation that is compounded by poor patient safety. In its annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals study, HealthGrades found nearly one million patient safety incidents and nearly 100,000 deaths among Medicare patients alone from 2006 to 2008, at a staggering cost of $8.9 billion to the economy2!

Occurring in tandem with patient safety incidents are work-related injuries and illnesses (WRII) among healthcare workers (HCW). WRII have untoward effects on HCWs, their families, healthcare institutions, and in particular, patient safety. The publication of a public health report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System, by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1999 first drew attention to, and made patient safety (quality of care) a national priority in the US3. The IOM committee opined that “safer environment for patients would also be a safer environment for workers, and vice versa, because both are tied to many of the underlying cultural and systemic issues”4. The US Department of Labor (DOL) stated that patient and worker safety often go hand-in-hand and share organizational safety culture as their foundation, hence the need for healthcare institutions to establish a safety and health management system4.

A Safety and Health Management System (SHMS) is a systematic approach for managing safety and health activities by integrating occupational safety and health programs, policies, and objectives into organizational policies and procedures, thereby helping organizations to continually improve their safety performance and compliance to health and safety regulations and standards. A well implemented SHMS adds value to the workplace by eliminating and significantly reducing incidents while improving worker productivity.

There are five critical program elements to implementing an effective SHMS5:

  1. Management Commitment and Planning: Top management must provide ongoing commitment and leadership that are visible to all employees.
  2. Employee Involvement: Employees at every level of an organization must be involved.
  3. Safety and Health Training: This will assure that employees and management understand safety and health hazards, and know how to protect themselves and others from hazards while performing their job tasks.
  4. Worksite Hazard Analysis: A comprehensive evaluation and analysis of potential hazards in the workplace.
  5. Hazard Prevention and Control: Establishment of procedures for the timely identification, correction, and control of hazards.

To ensure an effective SHMS, program elements must be integrated into the ways business is conducted in the healthcare industry. A system approach is required in a SHMS because it allows for systematic elimination of underlying deficiencies (root causes) of incidents, and continuous improvement. A SHMS that is well implemented will assist an organization to build a sustainable safety culture which will, in turn, shape the approach and conduct of all team members towards safe work practices that are based on employees making safe, smart choices as opposed to struggling with compliance6. A good safety culture in an organization is a by-product of an effective SHMS, which empowers all employees at all levels of the organization to perform their job tasks in safe manners. In addition to assisting healthcare organizations to reduce the number and severity of WRII, a SHMS also helps institutions to produce quality care, improve productivity, and increase profitability.

Gbenga Ogungbe is a board certified Associate Safety Professional and is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. He is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS.


  1. 1 in 8 Americans employed by U.S. healthcare industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Healthgrades study: Patient safety incidents at U.S. hospitals remain unchanged, costly. (n.d.).  Retrieved from
  3. Institute of Medicine. (1999). To err is human: Building a safer health system. Retrieved from
  4. Organizational safety culture: Linking patient and worker safety. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Safety and health management system. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  6. Nieva, V., & Sorra, J. (2003). Safety culture assessment: A tool for improving patient safety in healthcare organizations. Quality and Safety In Health Care, 12(2), 17-23.

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