Risk mitigation made easy: Apps make hospital safety proactive

A environmental health & safety hospital hot zone
A hospital ‘hot zone’

Hospitals are among the most hazardous workplaces in the U.S. In 2011, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 253,700 accidents were reported, an average of 6.8 work-related injuries for every 100 full-time employees. Rates of injuries reported to OSHA are decreasing in all industries except for hospitals, whose rates are double the average.

Could a set of digital apps help identify and reduce occupational and environmental risks in a quick and efficient manner? That is what Nick Kielbania, MS, CSP, CHMM, director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) and Adrian Hudson, PhD, MCompSc, principal software architect at Boston Children’s Hospital, set out to create.

Their web-based solution, enabled for Apple and Android devices, is called the BCH Environmental Health and Safety Application Suite. Designed to aid hospital emergency response, safety and support services, the applications encompass fire, clinical, research, construction and environmental safety, with additional apps for on-call and administrative personnel.

The automated system allows for standardized data entry and provides a centralized dashboard where safety staff and emergency responders can analyze data, identify key risk indicators and make data-driven, real-time decisions during an emergency.

The application suite currently has 2,400 registered users including architects, contractors, subcontracts, engineers, facilities staff and the safety teams.

From reactive to proactive

Previously, the EH&S team mainly used paper and pencil or multiple database applications to document safety activities. This required a search through hardcopy files or data mining through antiquated systems to retrieve current and archived files.

Hudson (L) and Kielbania
Hudson (L) and Kielbania

“When I joined the team, we had several different systems that never communicated with each other—be it paper, pencil or databases,” says Hudson. “The process delayed safety responses, and it often took safety personnel multiple hours a month to document accidents.”

With the application suite, time previously spent by safety staff behind a desk filling out paperwork has been re-allocated to an increased field presence. That has greatly helped identify and correct developing risks to prevent accidents from occurring.

A visual display of compliance with protective garb.
A visual display of compliance with protective garb.

For example, there has been a large push to make sure laboratory researchers wear the correct personal protective equipment. The application allows EH&S to touch a generic researcher image, mark which equipment the researcher is or isn’t wearing, and instantly show that image to advise the worker on what changes are needed.

Since implementation of the application suite at Boston Children’s, EH&S has seen a decrease in the number of violations, largely because safety staff spend more time in the field auditing and educating, rather than manually entering data at their desks.

The applications are also enabling quick and efficient responses to hazardous conditions.

“We can now respond to any type of internal or external chemical spill and use the application to look up associated health and physical hazards, criteria for state and federal reporting, applicable protective apparel, analytical instrumentation and clean up criteria,” says Kielbania. “Our vision is to show up at any emergency as equipped as possible with information that we need for an improved and efficient response at the tip of our fingers.”

When using the engineering application, hospital engineers will be able to have work orders approved in hours, rather than days.

Lessons from the financial industry

The hospital safety industry has tended to focus on specific hazards, rather than looking at the big picture. Hudson, an entrepreneurial computer scientist who has built and sold other software solutions in the past, attended a safety conference at MIT in search of innovative solutions. He noticed that safety professionals were speaking like people in the financial industry, using terms like “leading indicators,” “mitigating risks” and “future projections.”

Could such forecasting be done for hospitals? Boston Children’s has four million square feet of building space. Could safety officers predict “hot zones” or higher-hazard areas that need to be targeted to prevent injury or a hazardous event?

The answer was yes. Hudson created a set of algorithms that help predict and mitigate risk, just like the financial industry does. Intuitive dashboard graphics, including “heat maps,” quickly identify problems. With these data displays, EH&S staff can track safety throughout the hospital, identify trends and make needed improvements.

An algorithm for quantifying risk in each of the safety programs is the genius of this system. For example, through the data, one can see potential shortfalls in certain response scenarios. The team can drill down into the data to explore the reasons, such as communications breakdowns in a specific building, and develop a proactive plan to improve the response. More broadly, they can use the data to re-educate staff and provide remedies in the areas of greatest need.

“With these applications, we have the ability to save time by mitigating risk quicker and fixing problems sooner,” says Kielbania. “This ultimately leads to a reduction in potential violations and employee injuries and helps Boston Children’s Hospital maintain a constant state of readiness that leads to an overall safer hospital environment.”