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Patient Safety: Can We Learn Something from Utility Companies?

December 17, 2015


Safety_SignI watched a worker from the electric company yesterday. He came to my neighbor’s house. I knew why he was there. Pretty much just to flip a switch. But – he stepped out of his truck, grabbed his safety helmet, walked up a few steps, back down to the truck, removed the hat and got in the truck.

It made me think. I can’t imagine the helmet was all that critical to his safety with this relatively simple task. I know my own personality and likely would have skipped that step. But then it hit me – his company has a real and pervasive safety culture. They decided that eliminating workplace injuries is an achievable goal but to do so, every employee must follow every safety protocol, every time.

Meanwhile studies continue to reveal that hospital staff don’t consistently follow universal precautions (gown, gloves, mask, etc.) when they are supposed to. We’ve all seen it. How many times have you ignored them, yourself, when visiting someone in the hospital? That sign on the wall and the cart just inside the door mean you are supposed to get gowned up, but visitors ignore it all of the time and no one corrects them.

Similarly, studies continue to show that staff including physicians, are inconsistent with hand washing even though we know it has a huge impact on spreading infections. These are basic safety precautions. How many other short cuts do people take, every day?

Over 100,000 adverse events occur in hospitals each day. Your risk of death by plane crash is 1 in 8 million, but your risk of death because of an error during a hospital admission is 1 in 1,000. The electric company can get field workers to follow basic safety protocols, but we can’t get nurses and physicians to wash their hands?

Think these short cuts are no big deal? Consider that most errors that harm patients are driven by human error and short cuts:

  • Diagnosis errors
  • Infections
  • Misinterpretation of medical orders
  • Medication errors including:
o Confusion between drugs with similar names
o Incorrect drug calculations
o Environmental conditions that distract providers

Think about these errors. There are plenty of processes in place designed to avoid them. Technology and process improvements can help, but 80% of errors have a human element. What role does talent, recruiting, selection and training play? All of these errors are tied to specific behaviors. Our research shows that safety incidents correlate with behaviors such as attention to detail, conscientiousness, locus of control and accountability. People high in these attributes tend to follow every procedure every time. Those lower in these, tend to take short cuts.

  1. Are you evaluating these important attributes as you select candidates?
  2. Are you evaluating these behaviors in current staff so they can learn about their own behavioral tendencies –so they can alter them?
  3. Is anyone else concerned that that guy from the electric company is more focused on safety than some nurses?

To learn more, listen to our free webinar on the topic:

The Role of Behaviors and Talent in Patient Safety and Organizational Culture



Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.