Staff Safety

Staff safety is more than just optimizing your work site for employee protection and cost savings. It involves more than sanitation and equipment checks. It’s about creating an environment in which staff feel safe to do their jobs. That includes providing and maintaining safety tools such as radios and panic buttons. It also includes taking care of each other.

Mental and physical well-being is a very important part of the overall staff safety picture. It may not be written in our policies and procedures, but it must be in our minds. I’ve lost a colleague to suicide. Another colleague’s son took his own life. And just this morning I read that a former officer of mine was involved in a murder/suicide. We must take care of each other.

I am extremely proud of and grateful to AJA Immediate Past President Mandy Lambert for taking on the initiative of staff health and wellness. She has lent her voice to efforts of finding solid and innovative solutions to managing correctional stress. This initiative is crucial, especially now as the pandemic goes on.

We need only look to the past two years to see the importance of keeping one another safe. Like many of you, I sometimes find the training related to infectious disease and bloodborne pathogens boring and monotonous. But, boy, how relevant it is to what we’ve been through, and are still going through, with COVID.

Before diving in to the NCCHC standard on Staff Safety, I want to say a few words about safety tools: No matter how bright, shiny, and high-tech they might be, they are only effective if they are used, and used correctly.

Have you ever purchased the newest technology only to abandon it after experiencing a few glitches? Ever invested in extensive software to automate, calculate, and organize all your daily functions only to leave some of the best options turned off because “we need to keep it simple”? Yeah …me too.

The latest, greatest, state-of-the-art software and safety equipment—“man down” devices, panic buttons, barcode-reading devices, radios, and cameras—are only helpful if they are turned on, charged up, and deployed.

New technology is always evolving, but we must use it to its full capacity. A man-down button does no good sitting on a desk, in a locker, or anywhere else. A radio is only as good as the charge we give it… if we have the presence of mind to ensure it is properly plugged into its recharger at the end of the shift. It’s only as good as its battery… if your buddy hasn’t switched his battery for yours. Am I speaking from experience? Could be.

Look at the items discussed in this column and use this as an opportunity to assess your readiness to keep everyone—staff and the incarcerated alike—as safe as possible.


JIM MARTIN, MPSA, CCHP Vice President, Program Development

AMY PANAGOPOULOS, MBA, BSN, RN Vice President, Accreditation National Commission on Correctional Health Care

NCCHC Jail Commander Conversations: Staff Safety

The intent of NCCHC Standard B-09 Staff Safety is safety through communications and good safety practices and precautions. This standard refers to administrative practices that ensure staff safety within the facility and looks at what measures have been implemented to ensure a safe environment for staff.

Why Is This Important? This standard is important given the safety challenges in the correctional environment. It is important to understand that staff safety is more than working in a clean environment or completing equipment checks. Staff safety refers to a working environment where staff feel safe to do their work. They possess the equipment to conduct their jobs in a safe manner but also have quick access to custody in the event that personal safety is in jeopardy.

While correctional leadership is ultimately responsible for providing a safe work environment, health staff must also be vigilant about personal safety and security issues, and be aware of actions that may compromise their own safety as well as that of other staff and the entire facility. Common methods of communication include radios and panic buttons.

Standards and Indicators of Compliance The standards require facilities to evaluate their environment and provide security support during healthcare encounters. To address staff safety needs, correctional leadership is required to do the following:

• Staff are provided with multiple methods of communication, such as radios, panic buttons, availability of staff within voice proximity, between health staff and custody. • When safety concerns arise, custody staff are requested and readily available to health staff. • On each shift where health staff are present, accurate inventories are maintained on items that are subject to abuse or can cause harm (e.g., needles, scissors, other sharp instruments). Discrepancies are immediately reported to custody. • As equivalent to healthcare practices in the community, health staff identify and use contemporary equipment during the course of their duties (personal protective equipment and needle safety devices, such as self-sheathing needles or needle-less systems).

NCCHC Sample Survey Observations from Recent Surveys

Observations • Panic buttons in a health clinic have not been in working order for more than three months and no alternative means of emergency communication has been established. • Due to staff turnover, sharps have not been counted each shift for the past four months. • Sharps are counted each shift, but discrepancies are not reported to custody. • The facility does not supply x-ray aprons or dosimeters for staff who are frequently exposed to radiation. • The responsible health authority has not established a needle stick injury program and is not tracking needle sticks. • Due to custody staffing levels, health staff do not feel safe caring for patients. Health staff report they are frequently left alone with an inmate, and inmates are sent to health clinic unescorted.

Potential Contributing Factors • Limited access to emergency communication systems or systems in poor working order. • Lack of training for agency staff resulting in core processes, such as counting sharps each shift, not provided. Full-time staff were not accountable to continue process. • Lack of training regarding the need to be responsive to healthcare staff calls for assistance. • Poor reporting mechanisms for broken equipment. Process was either not understood or too cumbersome, allowing for delays in fixing equipment. • Lack of standardized way to report missing sharps each shift. Staff education and updated policy and procedures missing. • Policies and procedures did not align with all the compliance indicators identified in the standards. • Lack of agency contracts to provide enough staff to escort inmates to the health clinic. • Custody understaffed due to COVID and high turnover resulting in safety and security concerns. • Staff left to work in an isolated area where they can be trapped without an escape route.

Checklist for Self-Assessment