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Health, wellbeing and safety

"The problem isn’t that we can’t keep working when we are tired – the problem is that we can – we just don’t do it very safely."
Heffernan 2015

Part of building resilient systems and teams is to look after the health and wellbeing of staff and care about them.  This is the ultimate means to helping people work safely.  In fact, it should be the central driver to any patient safety strategy.  The people who work in organisational development, human resources, on workforce issues should be connected up with the people who work in safety.  Not only will this help people work safely, it will tackle the underlying cultures that are hindering safety.  It will also build the healing and restorative cultures that have been shown to enhance safety.

Wellbeing includes welfare, health, happiness, comfort and security.  It relates to the emotional, mental and physical state.  The ability to pay attention and to be vigilant is really hard under the best of circumstances.  The forgetfulness that is a normal human characteristic for most people combined with those who are tired and stressed impacts significantly on safety.  How can staff work safely if they have not eaten anything substantial for 12 hours, how can they function if they fail to drink properly, how can they make safe decisions when they are so tired they have forgotten what day of the week it is, how can we help people work safely who have not had a good night’s sleep for weeks, how can they be helped to safely carry out complex tasks when their minds are so tired, confused and distracted.  How can they speak up or ask for help if they are intimidated and frightened?  By supporting our workforce, they can become a force for work.

It is vital therefore that the welfare, health and basic needs of healthcare staff are met.  This has become hugely evident over the last two years with the impact of the pandemic on staff mental, emotional and physical health.  This means that we need to address the unacceptable working conditions and practices that they work in.  It is about supportive and compassionate leadership, about making workplaces positive, bringing joy to peoples work and increasing their morale.  It is about being kind and showing empathy, appreciation and gratitude.  All of which have been shown to increase staff engagement, staff morale and in turn their ability to work safely.