News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 6, 2013

State, while lauding Union, launches new safety program

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Union Hospital, which has made great strides in reducing workforce injury rates — especially those related to patient lifting — has become the first “collaborator” in a new statewide safety initiative.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Labor launched a healthcare worker safety initiative, aimed at reducing the industry’s high worker injury and illness rate. The announcement took place at the Landsbaum Center.

Sean Keefer, Indiana Department of Labor commissioner, announced the initiative. Also present were Dr. William VanNess, state health commissioner and Scott Teffeteller, Union Hospital CEO.

In Indiana, the growing healthcare industry employs more than 300,000 Hoosiers, Keefer said. In recent years, there also has been an increase in the number of work-related injuries and illnesses.

According to the most recent statistics, health care has the second-highest worker injury and illness rates in the state, with 6.3 (workers) per 100 employees. That’s higher than manufacturing, at 5.2 per 100 workers, and construction, with 3.9 per 100 workers.

“Healthcare workers are 38 percent more likely than construction workers to become injured and 17 percent more likely than manufacturing workers,” Keefer said.

He also noted that at nursing and residential facilities, the worker injury and illness rate is 9.5 (workers) per 100 workers, and at hospitals, it is 7.2 per 100 workers.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Keefer said. “The rate of injury and illness must and will be addressed.”  

The Department of Labor initiative is focused on addressing the most common injuries and illnesses found in the healthcare industry, including:

• Slips, trips and falls

• Lifting and lowering patients

• Repetitive stress injuries

• Accidental needle sticks

• Exposure to blood-borne pathogens

The voluntary safety initiative will focus on information; education and training; and consultation assistance.

The Department of Labor’s OSHA consultation division, INSafe, will spearhead the educational efforts of the department. INSafe can provide training and can evaluate safety programs for their strengths and weaknesses, Keefer said. It also can go through facilities to suggest safety-related changes.

Teffeteller outlined how efforts by Union Hospital to reduce worker injury and illness over the past five years have achieved significant results:

• Workforce lifting injuries have declined 43 percent.

• Workforce falls decreased 38 percent.

• Lost worktime decreased 84 percent.

• Worker’s compensation claims have declined 42 percent.

Various changes have included ongoing education for leadership and staff; providing resources and equipment, including patient lifting devices; meeting with employees who have reported injuries or near misses to prevent the same or similar events from happening to other employees; and empowering employees to develop solutions to safety concerns.

In 2011, Union Hospital was recognized for its workplace safety programs with the Governor’s Workplace Safety Award.

“I’m happy to commit Union Hospital as the first active party in this new initiative,” Teffeteller said. He called on healthcare leaders across the state “to follow suit and make this initiative a priority in your organization.”

Improving workforce health and safety makes good financial sense because it reduces lost work time and worker compensation costs, officials said. More importantly, “Protecting your employee is the right thing to do,” Teffeteller said.

The state Department of Health, which works with healthcare facilities through licensing and quality improvement efforts, supports the initiative. Health Commissioner VanNess said it addresses a “serious issue.”

The Health Department will encourage facilities to use the new safety initiative as a tool to help them reach their goals, VanNess said.

He noted that Gov. Mike Pence “wants to attract jobs to Indiana and healthcare jobs are certainly critical to that.”

VanNess said he’s been involved with an economic development organization, and he knows firsthand that a healthy workforce is important in attracting new business.

For more information about the healthcare worker safety initiative, visit www.in.gov/dol/healthcare.



Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.