What is a safety huddle and why have one at work?

Photo credit: joncandy on Flickr

Photo credit: joncandy on Flickr

We’ve all seen players huddle to call their next play. Here’s how this term is being used by the health care industry to describe a way of communicating during shift changes.

The term “safety huddle” has been used in BC health care for several years – more frequently in the last two, says Mike Sagar, a public sector industry specialist at WorkSafeBC.

“A safety huddle isn’t a meeting. It isn’t training. This is just a quick touching of bases to make sure everyone knows what they need to know, so they can get on the same page. Information you don’t want to find out after the fact or want to rely on putting it in a book or on record hoping someone would find the information in a timely way.”

Violence is a significant hazard for BC’s health care workers and each year an average of 1000 claims are accepted by WorkSafeBC. One way to ensure that everyone is aware of the current situation is to have a safety huddle in which workers can talk quickly about the biggest issues of the day.

Some people with dementia may have violent outbursts when they are overcome with fear or confusion or triggered by past trauma. Understanding each individual’s current situation can not only reduce the risk of violence to workers, but also improves the quality of care for the most vulnerable – people like my friend’s 80-year-old dad, who has dementia and is in residential care, believing he is “away at camp.” His family is grateful for a team of excellent caregivers who treat him with kindness and keep him as peaceful as possible (since he has been violent in the past).

Mike described what’s shared in a safety huddle.

“The care team is sharing recent changes in behaviour, mobility, or changes in infectious disease protocolsb as well as recent incidents,” Mike said. “Of everything that goes on in this place, what’s something that’s new or changed that you need to know about for the next eight hours?”

Lack of communication can result in missed opportunities to prevent violent behaviour, according to WorkSafeBC, which led a Prevention of Violence in Health Care campaign in 2012.

“Investigations of violent incidents frequently reveal that the patient involved had a history, or a known risk, of violent behaviour that was not communicated to workers by way of assessments, charts, and care plans,” reads the publication Communicate information: Prevent violence-related injuries to health care and social services workers.

What’s in a name?

Safety talk, toolbox talk, tailgate talk, and more. We all have different ways of referring to these short, informal meetings, often at the start of a shift. “Safety huddle” is another name for this – one I particularly like, because it makes me think of a sports team getting ready to win a game.

A selection of “off-the-shelf” toolbox talks for different sectors is available for free download from WorkSafeBC.

“People can go to the website and modify them for their own particular circumstances quite easily,” Mike said, referring to WorkSafeBC’s Toolbox Meeting Guides.


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