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June 13, 2000

New Safety-Climate Scale Measures Working Conditions of Hospital Workers

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have developed a short but effective safety-climate questionnaire that hospital administrators can use to assess the safety climate of their health care facility, to pinpoint safety hazards, and to measure the effectiveness of their safety intervention strategies. The questionnaire targets programs designed to reduce employees' exposure to bloodborne pathogens. The study found, for example, that employees who received frequent feedback and training about safety, and who also believed senior management strongly supported safety, were half as likely to experience blood or body-fluid exposure. The study appeared in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

Lead author Robyn Gershon, DrPH, MHS, senior research associate, Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "Because this scale measures specific dimensions of a hospital's safety climate, it can be used not only to assess the effectiveness of safety programs but also to target problem areas and promote the development of intervention strategies to reduce the risk of occupational exposures."

Safety in hospitals is an issue of growing concern both for patients as well as employees. Because hospitals have tried to increase productivity by downsizing and re-engineering, health care workers must now work harder and faster than ever within an environment of increased patient turnover, higher percentages of seriously ill patients, and higher numbers of patients with infectious diseases. This could potentially increase the risk of exposure to health care workers.

The researchers designed the study questionnaire to measure such things as barriers to safe work practices, the orderliness of a work site, and how often workers received safety related feedback and training by supervisors. The questionnaire can also determine if workers believe that senior management supports safety programs.

Completed questionnaires were obtained from 789 hospital-based health care workers -- the majority female, well-educated, and working as nurses -- who were considered at risk for exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Reported blood and body-fluid exposure incidents were common; for instance, 67 employees (9 percent of all respondents) experienced a total of 104 needle sticks for the six-months prior to the study. Interestingly, only 71 percent of these needle sticks were ever reported to the employee health office.

According to the authors, the results indicated that employees' perceptions about the safety of their hospital significantly influenced their adoption of safe work practices, which in turn led to fewer exposures. Said Dr. Gershon, "These results suggest that hospitals should focus on their overall safety management programs as a way to help limit employee exposures. Hospitals should regularly conduct employee surveys in order to find out how well their safety programs are doing. More importantly though, hospitals must then be prepared to make improvements as necessary. These steps will make hospitals a safer environment for both workers and patients."

This study was supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.