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Don’t forget to leave room for amazement: The perils of occupational fatigue

If you’ll bear with me, friends, this week deals not so much with the harsh realities of our vocation, but with the hope that those harsh realities can be effectively managed.

One of the true blessings of my work as a consultant is the opportunity to change things up on a regular basis—meeting new people and seeing new places while still renewing acquaintances encountered on the journeys of the past 18 years. And, as I think about it, I do hope (at least some of the time) this blog provides you with some level of diversion, but occupational fatigue (aka work burnout) is more common than serves anyone’s benefit.

I am in the habit of collecting things that interest me, and sometimes I’ll encounter something of sufficient interest that I want to share it with you folks. In wandering around the internet in the wake of the anniversary of the first moon landing, I came across a blog post (written by Brad Stulberg) describing some ways of dealing with work burnout that I felt was worth sharing.

As with so many things that “occur” to me, it’s not so much the revelatory aspect of the piece (though there is that to some degree), but rather the “tone” of the article that really caught my attentions to the extent that I wanted to share this with you. It doesn’t necessarily relate to safety in a global sense (though I could make the case that it does relate to personal safety to a fair degree), but I think anything that can shift the direction of conversation, even for the briefest of moments, is time well spent.

So, a short one this week, but that should give you some time to seek out a little amazement—you can never have too much magic in your life!

Cylindrical musings and nudging as a compliance strategy

Howdy, folks. After surviving the battering of this past weekend’s tumultuous weather in the Northeast (I got to experience it twice—once in Indiana and again back home), I’m going to be (relatively) brief for this week’s missive.

First up, hopefully most of you are familiar with the TED Talks concept (all the info you need about that you can find here) and NPR has a weekly program that kind of crystallizes some of the TED offerings in their TED Radio Hour. This past weekend (no TV, so we had to huddle around the radio, just like in olden times), the program revolved around the use of gentle pushes or nudges to change behaviors (you can hear that broadcast here). As safety professionals, I think we are all acquainted with the various attempts to get folks to do our bidding when it comes to safe practice (that sounds a little authoritarian, but it’s kinda what we’re up against) and I thought the entire program really gave me some food for thought in how we might come at compliance from a slightly different perspective. I thought some of the ideas were fascinating and definitely worth sharing, so if you have a spare 55 minutes or so (the webpage above does break it out into the individual sections of the broadcast—I think it’s all good, but whatever description seems most interesting to you would be a good starting point), you might give it a whirl…

I also want to bring you some hopeful news on the cylinder storage segregation front; when this whole focus started, quite a few folks were cited for storing non-full (empty or partial) cylinders in the same location as full cylinders. I don’t know when The Joint Commission posted the updated FAQ on cylinder storage, but, and I quote, “Full and partially full cylinders are permitted to be stored together, unless the organization’s policy requires further segregation.” I know this whole thing was the bane of a lot of folks’ existence, particularly after we had to work so diligently to get folks to secure the cylinders properly, only to have this little paradigm shift towards the edge of darkness. I believe that this will make things somewhat simpler in the execution (make sure your policy reflects the allowance for full and partials to be stored together—they’ll be looking to review that policy).

As a final, non-safety note, I just flew cross-country and was able to watch Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. I’ve always been something of a history buff, with World War II as a central theme and must tell you that I thought it was a really great performance and a fine movie (or is it a film?). It really points out the power of consensus and the use of the spoken word to galvanize folks (which kind of ties back to the nudging—though Sir Winston’s nudge packed a lot of wallop). At any rate, I thought it was very well done (no surprise about the Best Actor Oscar) and probably my favorite since Lincoln (the movie, not the car or President…though Lincoln in the Bardo was a very interesting book…).

I don’t think you’re spending enough time in the restroom…

In preparation for our journey into the restrooms of your mind (sorry—organization), you might consider a couple of things. Practicing this during surveillance rounds is probably a good thing; increasing folks’ familiarity with the potential expectations of the process is a good thing. But in practicing, you can also consider identifying an organizational standard for responding to restroom call signals, that way you can build at least a little flexibility into the process, maybe enough to push back a little during survey if you can allow for some variability.

Another restroom-related finding has had to do with the restrooms in waiting areas in clinic settings (ostensible restrooms that can be used by either patients or non-patient who may be in the waiting area). There is a requirement for a nurse call to be installed in patient restrooms, but there is no requirement for a nurse call to be installed in a public restroom. So what are these restrooms in waiting areas? I would submit to you that, in general, restrooms in waiting areas ought to be considered public restrooms and thus not required to have nurse calls. Are there potential exceptions to this? Of course there are—and that’s where the risk assessment comes into play. Perhaps you have a clinic setting in which the patient population being served is sufficiently at risk to warrant some extra protections. Look at whether there were any instances of unattended patients getting into distress, etc. (attended versus unattended is a very interesting parameter for looking at this stuff). Also, look at what the patients are being seen for; maybe cardiac patients are at a sufficiently high enough risk point to warrant a little extra.

At the end of the process, you should have a very good sense of what you need to have from a risk perspective. That way if you have a surveyor who cites you for not having a nurse call in a waiting area restroom, you can point to the risk assessment process (and ongoing monitoring of occurrences, etc.) as evidence that you are appropriately managing the associated risks—even without the nurse call. In the absence of specifically indicated requirements, our responsibility is to appropriately manage the identified/applicable risks—and how we do that is an organizational decision. The risk assessment process allows us the means of making those decisions defensible.