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Safety of health care workers, patients often at odds

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DALLAS — There’s a disconnect between the safety of health care workers and patients, though the same hazards apply to both, according to a speaker at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ Safety 2015 Professional Development Conference & Exposition in Dallas on Monday.

Some people say health care workers shouldn’t compromise the patient experience, even if it means putting themselves in unsafe situations, said Dr. Andrew I.S. Vaughn, medical director of the occupational and environmental safety division of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Vaughn, who led a session about safety in the health care industry, added that equipment meant to keep health care workers safe, such as sling lifts, which help workers transfer patients, is sometimes not used at all because the patient refused it.

“Personal safety isn’t an expectation when a patient needs help,” Dr. Vaughn said. “We have trained the health care workers to not expect their health and their safety to be protected. A matter of fact, it’s virtuous to sacrifice (their health and safety).”

What the health care industry needs to stress is “safety without adjectives,” Dr. Vaughn said, meaning it’s not just about worker or patient safety — it’s about a “culture of safety,” he added.

In hospitals, worker safety and patient safety are typically handled by two different departments that don’t interact, said conference attendee Michael Davis, Houston, Texas-based senior vice president and team leader of risk control services for Lockton Cos. L.L.C. In fact, he added, the two departments might not even know the other exists.

If a worker is injured trying to help a patient who has suffered an injury — a fall, for example — the total cost of that one event is much higher than anyone usually realizes, Mr. Davis said.