Reimagining WHS practices and management in Australian health care

By Alastair Brooke, Founder/Director, Safety Evolved
Friday, 17 July, 2020

Reimagining WHS practices and management in Australian health care

The COVID-19 pandemic and responses required to mitigate its impacts have transformed the operations of almost all industries. As traditional operations have rapidly changed, it has shone the spotlight on how organisations maintain a safe work environment and manage compliance with changing regulations.

The hospital and healthcare sectors are at the forefront of navigating this challenge, and sadly, it is frontline healthcare workers who have the greatest exposure risk. But beyond this, there are further risks in our heightened state of operations that may impact workplace health and safety, like fatigue and anxiety.

At the same time, we are in the midst of a digital transformation in hospitals and health care from the way in which we manage patient information and records, to how care and treatments are delivered. We must ask the question, why is it our safe work processes remain largely manual, reactive and largely unchanged in the past decade?

Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter put it even more succinctly: “How work is done will involve more humans interacting with more machines and technology and … is going to bring new and unexpected challenges and also opportunities.”

The question is, if work is changing, do our work health and safety (WHS) systems also need to change or are the existing systems robust enough to cope with the powerful forces of change and disruption?

COVID-19 has resulted in the need for rapid change and strengthening of hygiene and safety practices. As we progress past this initial response, it’s clear further change will be required as regulations continue to adapt to the new normal. Successful organisations will be those who can successfully change faster and better, and be safer than before. This will only be possible by leveraging digital tools and techniques to re-imagine traditional WHS practices to become more automated, connected, proactive and collaborative.

Shared compliance

While the onus is on employers and health leaders to ensure necessary precautions are taken to comply with Safe Work Australia’s regulations, it’s important to understand that WHS risk in this environment is shared by employees and employers. While employers have an obligation under law to ensure they comply with regulations, the consequences of breaching these obligations can be catastrophic for an organisation — as we’ve seen in the media.

While robust policies and practices are essential to delivering against that goal, they are but the tip of the iceberg. Careless or deficient safety practices are indefensible and where incidents occur, the onus is on the organisation to provide evidence that an effective WHS policy is in place and operating as planned.

In a changing environment, if this is a manual process, this is a huge task. Leading organisations are leveraging digital systems to manage this requirement, as well as providing a rich source of data and business intelligence on WHS performance to better target initiatives and be more proactive to mitigate these risks and provide better safety outcomes.

Frontline WHS entitlements: more with less

The mixed success of recent digital healthcare rollouts suggests that success requires more than just software. Well-integrated systems are needed to prevent time-consuming work and duplication, and ensure effective management of changes. This ensures adoption and a change in thinking and culture within healthcare workplaces without compromising the ability of workers to do their job.

Digital tools and associated procedural changes should allow under-pressure workers to have less to do while achieving more from a safety perspective. There are no silver bullets, but a collaborative process will evolve practice over time.

An evolution in safety thinking and practice

WHS is a complex area with stakeholders from the frontline to the Board. Systems integration in health care is similarly complex.

Safety Evolved has discovered that an ecosystem of capabilities is needed to deliver successful outcomes. The ‘Essential Seven’ turnkey solutions are:

  1. A commitment to evolving safety practice with a message that starts and ends with the Board.
  2. Fit-for-purpose software covering the value chain of WHS — designed to be changed by business users, not software developers.
  3. Effective system integration to connect WHS systems to core business systems.
  4. Real-time reporting to allow for speedy, informed, proactive and targeted decision-making.
  5. Change management to shift thinking and culture (from reactive to proactive).
  6. An engaged workforce that is consulted, supported and enabled to collaborate on evolving practice.
  7. Expert advice in WHS to provide assurance on compliance and better practice.

Leading hospital and healthcare organisations will need to quickly invest in developing these seven factors in order to navigate the current crisis and those to come.

*Alastair Brooke is the Founder/Director of Safety Evolved, an innovative digital enterprise that has created what is claimed to be Australia’s first dedicated WHS systems integration business. Safety Evolved provides robust digital solutions to transform and improve traditional WHS practice.

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