I was lucky to be accompanied through much of my emergency medicine training and specialist work in the UK by Bruce Armstrong. We shared many resuscitation cases together in hospitals and in prehospital care.
When preparing the team in resus, Armstrong used to appoint a ‘safety officer’. This could be a nurse or physician – it didn’t matter. Their role was to stay hands-off and be the eyes, ears, and mouth that would identify impending hazards and verbally intervene to thwart them.
This process seemed so natural that I rarely gave it a thought, but its glaring absence from every place I’ve worked since has only recently hit me.
Because my son goes swimming.
My three year old son attends a swimming class. There is usually one other child in the class. Recently a third child joined the class and I found myself getting uncomfortable. How could the instructor stay vigilant? What if while holding one child one of the others sank under water out of her field of view? My own obsessive reading about the limitations of human perception and cognition has convinced me that no-one can really focus on more than one thing at a time.
A friend of mine has coached kids at swimming so I asked him how they solve this. The answer was obvious – you rely on the life guards whose sole role is look out for everyone’s safety. Duh.
And then it came to me. Armstrong knew this all along. He got this idea from his prehospital experience working with fire & rescue crews and brought it into the ED. It didn’t occur to me that no-one else did this. It was just him.
Keen to explore whether anyone else had embraced this idea, I decided to go to the top when it comes to patient safety, and contacted Martin Bromiley. He told me he hadn’t come across the role in this specific setting, although did point out a great example from the BBC Documentary ‘Operation Iceberg’, in which ‘a group of scientists boarded an iceberg with someone watching over the big picture of polar bears and the berg cracking as well as fog etc’. Martin directed me to the Clinical Human Factors Group on LinkedIn, where interest was shown in the concept although it was apparent others haven’t come across it.
I went back to Armstrong to push him on further thoughts:
Yes a thought….in every other high risk environment they have a specific safety officer, whether it be nuclear industry, airline etc.
The role is specific not an add on to another role.
In healthcare we are seen as successful the more we do by one person. Think lean… think ‘efficiencies’ in the health service. Other industries focus on safety. Get safety right, your brand is safe and the public go with you. If you don’t put safety first it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. In healthcare we have too many serious incidents. The time has come to believe in and practice safety in health care rather than ticking boxes and not applying CRM and human factors.
One such example from industry shows that safety officers may use checklists, such as this one from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in response to an oil spill.
So here’s a proposed one for a Resuscitation Room Safety Officer. It’s a first draft to get the idea out there and start the conversation – just click the image below to enlarge. I’ve written (and used) checklists in resus before, but none specifically for a safety officer.
I would like to hear if anyone’s already doing this anywhere, and how it’s been working.