We all take safety for granted. We feel that it’s something that is supposed to be there when we come to work. Few ever question the safety record of a medical practice when they are applying for a job. I have interviewed hundreds of potential applicants over the past 10 years for several medical practices. Safety has never even been brought up unless I brought it up. When I approached the attitude one should have toward safety, most people don’t even know how to respond because they really never even gave it that much thought.

Now that’s scary. If they don’t have safety in the forefront of their minds, then will they know how to be preventative rather than reactive when danger or injury appears imminent? As employers, we must all make safety its own culture in the workplace. It’s not only the law, it’s the right thing to do.

This article comes out of a personal passion and dedication of commitment to safety in the workplace. As a retired national corporate safety manager for a major public corporation, my role was to develop, facilitate, and manage an overall safety program for employees and customers.

Safety culture comes from the top down, and never from the bottom up. Safety is a must have, not a nice to have. Make safety a part of your mission statement, and follow through.


Safety can also be defined as the control of recognized hazards in order to achieve an acceptable level of risk. This can take the form of being protected from the event or from exposure to something that causes health or economical losses. It can include protection of people or of possessions.

Safety is the condition of a “steady state” of an organization or place doing what it is supposed to do. It’s costly to have a safety program, but it is more expensive not to.

Practicing safety in a medical office begins with defining safety as it relates to the work environment.

Medical offices should consider what the potential risks and threats are so safety management protocols can be developed to minimize and eliminate those potential risks. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that people have the right to a safe work environment, and employers must take the proper precautions to maintain safety in the workplace.1

An organization’s safety culture is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety management. Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.2


As a practice administrator for a multispecialty cosmetic surgical practice, my top two priorities (among others) are the following:

  1. The safety of our employees and patients; and,
  2. The protection of our practitioners’ licenses (including physicians, nurses, aestheticians, etc).

When you establish and maintain the integrity of providing a safe workplace for everyone, you will immediately see how your staff adopts the same culture that you represent. In fact, you will see others looking out for potential hazards, as well.

These cultures are not temporary programs that we all see in the workplace (here today and gone tomorrow). They should and need to be permanent, and anything less is totally unacceptable.

In the beginning of my attempts to make safety a permanent culture, I saw employees and even managers roll their eyes. Well, we all know what that means when we see it. It means that they are unaware, uneducated, or initially unwilling to possibly adopt change or increase the awareness of their current unenforced safety program.

Anything that requires change without an initial economic reward is often thought of as either a waste of time or less than a priority. When someone (employee or patient) becomes sick or injured due to our negligence or improper use of safety protocols, you will see how fast attitudes change. Always remember that the next injury or illness can be pointed directly toward you.

Types of Safety Risks and Situations in the Workplace

Safety Plan—Do you have a written safety plan and protocols to follow when situations happen?

Environmental—Air quality, personal attitude, weather conditions, etc.

Equipment Safety—sharps, red bag, frayed plugs, personal protective equipment (PPE), safety shields, gloves, safety needles, cords and slippery objects on the floor, etc.

Medical Records—HIPAA, surgical time-out, wrong patient entries, wrong-site surgeries, patients with the same identical names, lack of proper consents, inconsistent or improper recordkeeping, etc.

Hazardous Materials—Material safety data sheets (MSDS) and right to know (chemicals), biomedical hazardous waste, etc.

Prevention of Medical Errors—Time out in the O/R, positive ID of patient and procedure, patients with identical names.

Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace—Is it part of your policy and procedure manual, and a condition of employment? If not, why not?

Training—OSHA, laser, workplace violence, sexual harassment, HIV/hepatitis, MSDS, and right to know, etc.

Employee Commitment—Do you have it?


Safety can be limited in relation to some guarantee or a standard of insurance to the quality and unharmful function of an object or organization. It is used in order to ensure that the object or organization will do only what it is meant to do.

It is important to realize that safety is relative. Eliminating all risk, if even possible, would be extremely difficult and very expensive. A safe situation is one where risks of injury or property damage are low and manageable.

Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). The notion implies that choice has an influence on the outcome. Potential losses themselves may also be called “risks.” Almost any human endeavor carries some risk, but some are much more risky than others.3

We all must understand that safety doesn’t just happen. As I mentioned before, safety starts from the top down. As physicians, licensed allied health professionals, managers, employees, support staff, and vendors, we must all adhere to the professional standards for which we all stand.

Who wakes up in the morning thinking, “How I can get sick or injured at work today?” But do they ever wake up thinking, “How can I make sure that we consistently maintain a safer workplace?” Probably not. That’s where a safety culture plays such an important role.


Not having an awareness of safety in your office can also prove to be financially detrimental. When one of your employees gets hurt and needs to be out for a while, this places an added burden on the rest of your staff. They are all vulnerable to obtaining additional injuries because they now have to work harder to do more work with less assistance. This can allow for riskier shortcuts and possible injury.

Patients deserve to be treated with the highest level of safety that we have the ability to provide. Look at the practices out there that really don’t have a safety culture or safety protocol. We often read about them and say, “How could they let that happen?” The next time that you feel that way, look in the mirror, be honest with yourself, and ask if it could have happened to you. Without definitive safety measures in place, you bet it could.

Your staff also deserves the same respect. If you don’t have a safety officer in your practice, then ask for volunteers. Appointing someone that really doesn’t want to do it will only make matters worse. The staff won’t respect that person because it is so obvious that he or she does not really care.

Maintain a safety checklist, and make sure that you have a routine and timely reporting system. Give the safety officer time to actually go through the facility and note any deficiencies that need immediate and future correction. Let that person feel good about making your practice a safer environment for all concerned.


On The Web!

See also “Taking the Guesswork Out of Patient Safety” by Cheryl Whitman, PhD, MBA, in the August 2009 issue of PSP.

There is no room for error when it comes to safety. When you hear someone say that they almost got hurt, you need to listen carefully and consider that a near miss. The next thing that you should be thinking is, how can I prevent that from possibly happening again?

Are you aware that most workers’ compensation programs offer discounts for safety plans (and drug and alcohol plans)? Regardless of the discount, that’s a great bonus just for doing the right thing.

In conclusion, we can’t possibly cover every aspect of safety in our practices or eliminate every chance for possible injuries, but making awareness a part of our daily lives will certainly minimize the potential risk in the future.

Jay A. Shorr, BA, CMBM, CAC, is a professional motivational speaker in several industry organizations and is an advisor to the Certified Aesthetic Consultant™ program, a Certified Medical Business Manager (CMBM) from Florida Atlantic University, and a CAC from TAPA. He can be reached at (954) 720-6333 or .

  1. Medical Office Safety. eHow.com www.ehow.com/about_6469606_medical-office-Safety.html. Accessed November 11, 2011.
  2. Organising for Safety: Third Report of the ACSNI (Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations) Study Group on Human Factors. Health and Safety Commission (of Great Britain). Sudbury, England: HSE Books, 1993.
  3. Wikipedia entry on “Risk Management.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_management. Accessed November 18, 2011.