Safety is No. 1 at Southern Ohio Medical Center

Nov. 1, 2007
The Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) must set an impressive safety standard to become the first healthcare facility to be named one of America's safest

The Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) must set an impressive safety standard to become the first healthcare facility to be named one of America's safest companies; that much is clear. What isn't immediately as apparent is the organization's all-encompassing approach to create a safe and healthy workplace for its 2,300 employees.

“Safety is our first strategic value,” says Penny Cooper, director of risk management and safety services. “We're very focused on safety.”

Every year, the 222-bed hospital in Portsmouth, Ohio, admits roughly 13,000 patients, performs 12,000 surgeries and handles almost 80,000 emergency cases. Through it all, SOMC is dedicated to not only taking care of patients' needs, but ensuring that employees are kept safe and healthy, as well. Safety is listed first among SOMC's strategic values, including the promise that the facility “will build and sustain an exceptionally safe organization.”

As part of SOMC's determination to go above and beyond expected safety policies, the organization has implemented a random audit program, an ergonomics team, a safety leadership team, a safety hotline and a healthy partners program. It's all part of SOMC's commitment to build a safe environment for the facility's workers.

Safety Champions

SOMC created the Safety Champions program in 2005 to facilitate culture change within the facility and to highlight the importance of workplace safety. The program incorporates safety into day-to-day operations and presents leadership opportunities for staff. Cooper says departmental managers look for individuals who are “focused, passionate about safety and doing what's best for the organization.”

Safety champions initially meet for full-day training sessions and quarterly, half-day sessions thereafter to gain safety information to take back to their respective departments. Their responsibilities include serving as liaisons for other employees, raising departmental safety concerns and assisting continual monitoring and readiness. Safety champions serve a minimum of 1 year within SOMC. Currently, the organization has about 200 champions in the program.

Since the safety champions program has been in place, SOMC has reduced total recordable injuries by more than 30 percent, has reduced workers' compensation costs by more than 9 percent, has improved compliance with external governing bodies and has won several safety awards.

Reaching for Star Status

As a current member of the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Mentor Program, SOMC is taking steps to gain VPP Star status. Management believes achieving this goal can help SOMC continue to save lives, avoid worker injuries, reduce insurance and litigation and raise worker morale. Cooper explains that not all healthcare facilities share this commitment to making safety the first strategic value organization-wide.

“Healthcare facilities are generally inspected by agencies concerned with patient safety,” Cooper explains. “Until you pull OSHA into it, you don't get the full effect of keeping workers safe. OSHA has really helped us.”

SOMC even has partnered with VPP Star status site Turner Construction for the facility's $100 million expansion. Cooper says SOMC didn't want to just hire a construction company as an employee; they wanted a company with a proven safety record to act as a partner in this extensive project.

SOMC also offers free, quarterly education sessions to contractors to be sure they understand the safety requirements. Each contractor additionally is obligated to sign a letter of commitment to SOMC's safety program prior to completing any work. This way, SOMC can determine that everyone working in or for the organization is following the same important safety procedures and guidelines.

SOMC truly has created a comprehensive safety culture for all employees. By putting safety first, SOMC has become one of the few healthcare facilities to stand out as a safety star.


When a nurse noticed that SOMC's medication system placed the most-used drugs at the bottom, causing staff to repeatedly bend over, she submitted her concern to the Ideas program. This incentives program rewards employees who submit safety-related ideas or solutions that are approved by the safety leadership team. Thanks to the Ideas program and the nurse's observation, the problem was solved. Now, the most commonly used drugs are located within easy reach.

“It changed the whole system,” Cooper says.

It also shows how encouraging employee input can affect an organization's safety culture. By putting safety first, SOMC has become one of the few healthcare facilities to stand out as a safety star.

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