OHS Canada Magazine

Healthcare meeting probes safety culture issues

October 21, 2013

Health & Safety Health care Injury, Illness Prevention

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

Health and safety in the nursing profession was the focus of a recent meeting between provincial health ministers and representatives of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) and the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). The briefing, which members of the Ontario Nurses Association also attended, took place in Toronto on Oct. 4, during the annual ministers’ conference.

“We got good feedback from the ministers,” said Linda Silas, a registered nurse and president of the CFNU. “We know what we’ve been doing is not working.”

Health ministers from all of the Canadian provinces except Quebec and British Columbia were able to attend, according to Silas, as was a representative from the Yukon.

Attendees at the private breakfast meeting discussed the need to establish a culture of safety in the nursing sector. Topics included reducing the rate of seasonal influenza and other infectious diseases in the workplace, how to deal with understaffing and effective ways to improve harm reduction.


“The whole issue of culture of safety doesn’t exist in healthcare,” Silas charged. “In any industry, there has to be a culture of safety, because not to be safe is associated with profit loss. In healthcare, we don’t have profit loss, but we have tremendous cost to the system, to the individual working in the system and, sadly, to patients when we don’t have a culture of safety.”

The flu issue was one of the main themes of the meeting. “We have the highest rate of sick time,” Silas pointed out about the nursing profession, “and it always gets worse in the winter, of course, which is very costly.” Frequent illnesses among nurses have led to staffing shortages, she added. “You cannot expect nurses or other healthcare workers to go into work if they have influenza and then think that you’re going to have an effective reduction of influenza in your workplace.

“And that’s one example, but all infectious disease should be treated the same way. We should look at any infectious disease under an occupational health and safety lens,” she argued.

Rachel Bard, CEO of the CNA, contributed to the conference with a presentation about Bill C-65. This federal bill, introduced by Conservative MP and federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq, proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Bard feels that if the bill becomes law, it will have a negative effect on supervised injection services by applying stricter application criteria. Supervised injection services not only improve access to prevention and treatment programs, she argued, but also prevent death and disability.

“We wanted to ensure they were apprised of the concern,” Bard said, “and ensure that they could address it from each of their respective provinces and territories.”

Both Silas and Bard considered the meeting to have been a success, with all the important issues having been raised and heard.

“We had a good dialogue with the ministers and some of their officials,” said Bard. “It is important to collaborate between government and healthcare leaders, if we really want to see some improvement in the healthcare community.”

Silas said that the healthcare sector is working harder at implementing a culture of safety. “To be able to meet with eight provinces on a topic that is so dear to nurses, it’s a privilege and a success,” she said.


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