Elderwood Health Care at Wedgewood (Elderwood) began working with the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL), Division of Safety and Health (DOSH), On-site Consultation Program in 2006. This company was initially approved for participation in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), in 2007. Over the years, by working with NYSDOL/DOSH On-site Consultation Program's consultants, Elderwood received assistance that not only made it a safer and healthier place to work, reduced injury and illness rates, and decreased workmen's compensation costs, but more importantly, altered the everyday work culture.
Elderwood employs 160 workers and is located in Amherst, New York. This 92-bed residential facility provides long-term, skilled nursing and rehabilitation services. In addition, Wedgewood Memory Care Program - a secure, 35-bed unit - provides care for residents with Alzheimer's disease or other memory-impairing disorders.
In the early 2000's, Elderwood realized it needed to improve its safety and health performance. The company was experiencing a spike of approximately 40 to 50 workplace-related injuries or illnesses per year. Because of high injury and illness rates, the company sought to increase engagement of the workers by developing stringent, yet collaborative safety policies and programs.
"Commitment to workplace safety and understanding that caregivers are our most important asset are fundamental tenets to the success of Elderwood," said Administrator Anna Bojarczuk-Foy. "This company has always focused on providing its workers with a safe and healthful working environment and wants to continuously improve upon its track record." Bojarczuk-Foy had worked with OSHA's On-site Consultation Program while with a previous employer, so in 2006, she contacted the NYSDOL/DOSH to get help improving worker safety at Elderwood. This program offers free, confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses and is available to businesses in all U.S. states and most territories. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.
When the DOSH safety and health consultant arrived at Elderwood on August 16, 2006, he conducted a comprehensive visit, covering both safety and health hazards. During the first visit, an assortment of potential hazards was identified. The list included fall hazards, electrical, machine guarding, chemical and warning labels, fire and explosive material storage, personal protective equipment as well as evacuation and exposure control plans.
After the DOSH consultant's visit, all of the identified hazards were corrected, primarily through engineering controls. For example, electrical outlets were rewired, rebuilt, or closed. Guards and shields were installed on machinery, and a drill press was bolted to a table. Several locations were plumbed to provide one-step eye wash units. Spray bottles were labeled with the name of the contents and manufacturer. Warning labels were affixed to refrigerators and regulated waste. Personal protective equipment was provided to caregivers at no cost to the worker. Materials posing fire or explosion hazards were removed from the boiler room; then, they were stored or disposed of according to proper protocols. In addition, safety issues were added to internal inspection checklists.
Changes in business practices included increasing use of Safety Supporters, 10 front-line staff members - certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, laundry and maintenance personnel. The group meets regularly to conduct safety audits, review current issues, discuss their findings, offer solutions to potential issues, and report them to the Safety Committee management team or directly to the administrator. They wear red to identify themselves as the "go to" people, to answer questions about safety and bring unsafe conditions to the immediate attention of supervisors. The group has initiated simple and ingenious solutions. During a summer heat wave, they provided heat relief ideas for laundry and dietary staff. To avoid slips and falls in parking lots, wooden signs painted to look like penguins were posted to remind everyone to watch their step on the ice. Evacuation plans were revised to account for all staff and residents following an emergency evacuation, and the Exposure Control Plan was made accessible to all staff. Safety and health topics are routinely addressed in the Elderwood's newsletter - "The Wedgewood Wire." The staff receives regular training, and Elderwood conducts an annual review of OSHA's requirements.
Elderwood's efforts were recognized when it was accepted as an OSHA SHARP site on June 18, 2007. Acceptance of a company into SHARP is an achievement of status that singles out the company among its business peers as a model for workplace safety and health. By increasing engineering controls, empowering the staff, and changing some business practices, Elderwood significantly improved its safety and health program. In 2005, there were 46 injuries and illnesses; this number dropped to 15 in 2012, representing a 66% reduction. Because of continued efforts to improve safety and health program implementation and performance, on May 7, 2012, Elderwood received its renewal for continued participation in SHARP and celebrated its fifth year of SHARP status.
"Working toward SHARP and - after achieving it - working to keep it, has given the entire staff a focus and a goal that they know is achievable, said Bojarczuk-Foy. Safety is so deeply integrated into staff procedures that it has become a daily interactive priority. Elderwood staff members just automatically think safety."
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