Injuries Drop Among Duke Employees

Departmental collaboration highlights safety efforts

Due to increased safety awareness through teamwork and communication, managers and employees across Duke have worked together to lower on-the-job injury rates.

Through the support of collaborative efforts, 21 percent fewer staff suffered an injury that caused a week or more of lost time from work last year.

"The continued reduction in workplace injuries reflects the on-going commitment and efforts of staff and leadership throughout Duke to strengthen our culture of safety," said Joyce Williams, director of Workers' Compensation. "The sustained effort of the hundreds of staff working individually and as teams to assure the safety of all employees is deeply appreciated and benefits each of us."

Williams noted that the success in declining rates can be attributed to cases where managers worked with Duke faculty and staff to find innovative ways to create a safer work environment. In addition to recent decreases in injuries, last year saw a 4 percent drop in injuries that required employees to be out of work at least one week.

One example of a department working together to reduce injuries is within the Division of Laboratory Animal Resources (DLAR). That group reached its lowest employee injury rate ever in 2011.

"A lot of our success comes from a really vibrant, enthusiastic safety committee that meets monthly to look for things that need improvement," said Peg Hogan, assistant director of DLAR. "Because we get feedback from employees who deal with safety issues day-in and day-out, it gives our department a chance to keep moving forward with ideal practices."

Between the department's safety committee and a suggestion box, DLAR staff have changed the kind of cushioned shoe inserts employees use, installed automatic doors and will even enlarge the size of their loading dock to allow for a safer transfer of materials from trucks to staff with more room to maneuver.

Employees from DLAR also meet with Duke's Occupational and Environmental Safety Office on a quarterly basis to review suggestions and brainstorm new ways to encourage safety.

"We want to make sure we're covering every aspect to make sure we're doing everything we can to make our workplace safer," Hogan said.

While department-level actions lead the way, groups like Duke's Ergonomics Division helps to recognize hazards of the workplace and offer recommendations for how to set up workspaces to increase comfort and productivity. Duke has also created a group to track workers' compensation issues comprised of representatives from Duke's Occupational and Environmental Safety Office, Employee Occupational Health & Wellness, Workers' Compensation, Health System and others. The Workers Compensation Advisory Committee convenes quarterly to discuss and brainstorm how to enhance worker safety across Duke and recognize success stories.

But that's not all. In 2010, Duke began a pilot program that required some new hires at Duke Raleigh Hospital to pass a series of physical tasks that related to their job. Clinical nurses or nursing assistants, for example, would be asked to lift objects to mimic every-day duties that would include moving medical equipment or patients. The program meant that an employee's physical abilities would be known before they were hired, minimizing the risk of accidents.

"Our systems, processes, and policies around workers compensation have continued to improve," said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration. "One of the key aspects of our improvements is the ownership that every employee has taken in creating as safe a work environment as possible."