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Client Engagement: Managing Workplace Hazards and Risks

28th February 2019

As part of my role as a safety professional, I need to help identify hazards in the workplace.  It’s kind of the starting point for almost any organization.  It’s almost the easy part.  The hard part is engaging the right people, to manage the hazards, and reduce peoples’ exposure to them. Better yet, eliminating the hazards altogether.

I had a great conversation with Dr. Jim Ayukekbong, the Chief Infection Preventionist, and Director of EpiTech Public Health.  They are a small business in Nanaimo that is focused on mitigating the risk of infection transmission in both healthcare and non-healthcare high risk businesses and industries on Vancouver Island, and the mainland.

Dr. Ayukekbong’s company has a very similar methodology to Carbon Safety Solutions.  And not surprisingly, Dr. Ayukekbong also faces some of the same challenges.  One of the big ones, is helping clients, or potential clients understand the hazards that are inherent in their business, and the level of risk associated with them, and then engaging them to effect positive change.

Dr. Ayukekbong commented that “often with the influence of external auditors, or regulators, businesses may develop an infection control program on their own.  In some cases this can leave gaps in knowledge, use of the wrong methodologies, standards, tools, or controls, and can expose the workers, public, and the business to a number of risks.”

This is a challenge many organizations, and safety professionals come across.  Without a comprehensive understanding of the risks, the inherent assumption may be that “nothing has gone wrong, so we must be doing something right” or that the “risk is minimal, non-existent, or under control”.   It’s not uncommon to see little or no evidence to support these assumptions.

Depending on the nature, and scale of the risk, those assumptions can be incredibly dangerous.  When organizations or individuals have not done their due diligence, and assessed hazards effectively, they are potentially influencing only a minor aspect of their risk, or perhaps the wrong aspects, while key risk aspects go unidentified, or untreated.

In 2017 I wrote an article that looked at how we view success in relation to safety. A key point was that sadly, many organizations believe they have a reasonable handle on managing safety until something happens.  They’re not as focused on proactively identifying good practices to help manage hazards, instead they tend to reactively respond to incidents. The reality is organizations need to perform an effective gap analysis of hazards vs. controls to assess the risk adequately and address it proactively before it leads to loss.

One of the challenges for many organizations is that without the consultation of subject matter experts, such as Dr. Ayukekbong, they are limited in their knowledge of the true risk.   The organizations may know a little, but not enough to identify hazards effectively, assess, and then influence the risks.  They may think they are safe, while analysis and evaluation by subject matter experts may reveal an entirely different outcome.  Something I have witnessed many times.

So how can subject matter experts effectively engage with these potential clients, and utilize their knowledge, and experience to add value?

When I asked Dr. Ayukekbong, he explained he first educates the client on the benefits of proactively encouraging adoption of a good program, and good practices, prior to the presentation of health issues.  He also identified a few familiar mantras that as a safety professional, I’ve heard and applied myself many times before:

  • Ensure the client really understands the spectrum of hazards, and is educated on the potential consequences of these hazards
  • Perform an appropriate program gap analysis
  • Ensure that the decision makers, and influencers within the organization are not only educated on these hazards, but are also supportive of the steps required to proactively identify, and manage them and their associated risks
  • Engaging the appropriate team members to successfully implement the agreed protocols, and requirements
  • Monitoring and observation to ensure that what has been implemented is being followed and used correctly, along with any adjustments that may be required to encourage compliance with expectations
  • Perform failure mode effect analysis when evaluating any observed failures of developed processes

Now these are very familiar approaches to me, and many Occupational Health and Safety professionals, and are approaches many have used.  A big challenge for me, is how you get the “decision makers, and influencers” to be “supportive” so that the organization is buying into the benefits of a proactive approach, and actually managing the hazards proactively.  Dr. Ayukekbong indicated about 80% of his clients, successfully implement, and maintain his programs.

That is a great uptake.  Dr. Ayukekbong verifies success by applying Process and Outcome surveillance after implementation.  This can consist of site visits, meetings, and inspections to ensure that his clients are on track and create opportunities to intervene when they are not.   This is essential to encouraging ongoing commitment, and addressing any gaps.

Again, very familiar protocols within my world of Occupational Health and Safety.  Another question I had for Dr. Ayukekbong was, how do you get the employees within the organization to actually do what they are supposed to do?  He had one answer.

“Demonstrate the value of the proactive approach and encourage the employees and the organization as a whole to recognize their own internal responsibility and commitment to provide a safe, and healthy work environment for everyone who enters it.”

Bingo.  So easy, yet so difficult as well.  Get them to understand the risk, and care enough to manage it.

For Dr. Ayukekbong’s clients, the consequence of a massive outbreak of Norovirus, Influenza or Clostridium infection has critical impacts on the organizations’ workforce, operational capacity, and reputation, all of which could be crippling.  Dr. Ayukekbong needs to educate his clients on the reality and consequences of these risks and help them understand they have an opportunity, and obligation to assess and control these risks.

Both Dr. Ayukekbong and I have found that the key to successfully engaging clients in managing their workplace risk is supporting, empowering, and enabling the people within it.  Ensuring that the appropriate people:

  • Understand the hazards, risks, and requirements to manage them practically but effectively
  • Are engaged to positively influence and effect proactive behaviors
  • Execute good project management to ensure that the plan is being put in place as intended, and timely delivery of objectives
  • Perform ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the program to ensure it’s performing as intended and achieving the results required

These aren’t new, or innovative insights in the world of occupational health and safety, but Dr. Ayukekbong provides a nice case study that shows when people are a focal point, and proven methodologies are applied, there can be positive results, leaving clients in a healthy position to manage their hazards, and receive value from the services of subject matter experts, such as Dr. Ayukekbong.

If you’re interested in a consultation to improve workplace hazard and risk management, or implementing an infection prevention and control program, please feel free to reach out to myself or Dr. Ayukekbong.

Scottlescak@carbonsafety.ca   and   Jayukekbong@epitechconsulting.org

About Dr. Ayukekbong

Dr. Jim Ayukekbong holds a Bsc in medical lab science, Msc in Biomedicine and a PhD in medical microbiology. He is a CIC board certified infection preventionist and has also completed a certificate in project management from Acuity Institute, Denver, USA. He is an expert in infection control program development, evaluation, and training and has supported numerous healthcare and non-health clients in their infection control initiatives.

He also has extensive experience in disease surveillance and outbreak response and has previously led outbreak response efforts of diseases like influenza, multidrug resistant organisms, norovirus, yellow fever, Ebola etc. Prior to founding EpiTech, he led the USAID funded predict project on zoonotic disease surveillance and contributed in the development of programs for infection control and risk mitigation. He has also served as a senior public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada where he supported the agency in the harmonization of guidelines for HIV/AIDS surveillance and continuum of care in all 13 provincial and territorial health services in Canada.

Dr. Ayukekbong is guest editor to the Canadian journal of infectious disease and medical microbiology and also serves as a member of the editorial board of the international journal of virology and aids. Additionally, he is a reviewer to several international medical journals and has published over 20 articles within the field of epidemiology and infectious disease control. He is also adjunct professor of regulatory science at Algonquin college – University of Ottawa.

Posted in: Safety Blog