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A Focus on Safety – How We Protect Our Patients and Staff

A Focus on Safety – How We Protect Our Patients and Staff

By Zach Kurneta, Food & Nutrition Director, and Chef Michael Coppola

Safety has become a top priority for us at Nuvance Health in Norwalk, Conn. We recently reached a significant milestone – 441 days without an accident. And we are proud to say our efforts have been rewarded. Last year, we won a gold medal for one event in the first round of the Morrison “Safety Olympic Games,” and our safety record is one reason we were chosen as Morrison Healthcare’s “Account of the Year” in 2021.

For the past three years, our safety committee has worked to constantly educate our staff. Formed in August 2019, the committee consists of a cross-section of associates. Its representatives include our retail manager, patient line supervisor, some of our cooks, and a retail café cashier.

Having our cooks represented is critical to our success. We feed approximately 650 visitors and patients daily, so our kitchen is constantly busy with typically about 30 cooks, service workers, and managers per shift.

With those workers in mind, we started by making key improvements to improve safety in the kitchen. After finding our floor mats were the cause of some accidents, we ordered new Mighty Mat slip-resistant floor mats. These mats are heavier than our previous floor mats and don’t slide, which helps prevents slips and falls.

Next, after experiencing some equipment shortages, we took a complete inventory of our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Now, we have an adequate supply and never run short of cutting gloves and other critical equipment.

But, most important, we’ve taken several steps to engage all of our associates in the importance of safety. We meet regularly and discuss ways to improve, challenges that arise, and how to communicate best practices to each area in the department.

Here is what we do:

  • There is a special focus on knife safety. Ensuring every associate has their own cut gloves and all appropriate team members are taught the proper technique for knife handling. Every associate is required to wear non-slip shoes to protect from falls. When accidental spills happen, they are located with proper signage and cleaned immediately.
  • At monthly staff online chat meetings, we conduct demonstrations to show proper safety procedures. In the past, we’ve shown how to properly wear PP Equipment or the proper way to break down a pile of boxes. Also, we show how to wear goggles when handling chemicals. In one recent demo, we showed how walking behind someone and not letting them know can easily cause a bump where someone could trip and fall.
  • When onboarding new associates, we pair them with an experienced person who shows them how to wear gloves, jackets, hats, and safety shoes properly.
  • We also work to incorporate Compass One Healthcare Safety Director, Skip Ray’s advice to “speak up” when someone else may not be wearing gloves or performing a job in an unsafe way. As part of the new associate orientation, we stress the importance of “see something, say something” to let us know about any potential hazards.
  • The most visible daily reminder is our Safety Board, which is placed in the middle of the kitchen. It’s updated regularly to include our safety expectations, updated rules & regulations, and any new or additional signage the facility uses on patient units.

The board includes:

  • Signage used on patient units that indicate types of isolation rooms
  • Signage that notifies of patients with increased security measures
  • Safety Certificates Handwashing procedures
  • Days since the last accident!

With all of the initiatives, our goal is to engage employees in the importance of safety – and to reward them. The committee set a goal of celebrating our success every 100 days without an accident. During the past two years, we’ve had pizza parties, cakes, our favorite wraps & sandwiches, and basket giveaways.

Finally, as Skip says, we remind people that it’s important to go home to their loved ones and families after a full day of work. We encourage them to have a picture of someone they love or an activity that makes them happy – a car, for example- and post it on the wall to remind them why they work safely. When we realize what is important to us outside of work, it can be a true incentive to work safely.


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