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A new breed of safety fair focuses on data-based trends


December 1, 2009

For years, employee safety fairs served as inexpensive ways to host informal refreshers about hospital policies and procedures.

However, some facilities now tie their safety fair content to opportunities for improvement, education about new equipment and training, and honed emergency preparedness.

Safety fairs are best when they reflect data and trends the hospital has collected, says Ann Colvin, RN, advanced nursing coordinator at the University of Alabama (UAB) Hospital in Birmingham, whose safety fair in the hospital atrium in April attracted 44 vendors and 1,100 staff participants.

A safety fair doesn’t fill the need for mandated training. However, when you tie the fair’s content to incident data you’ve collected, it shows Joint Commission surveyors that you’re acting upon trouble spots you’ve identified. Further, fairs help refresh earlier safety training in which your facility invests.

“It doesn’t replace the formal training, but it reinforces the training they get ... and gets out some new information,” says William Wilson, CFPS, PEM, fire safety coordinator at Beaumont Hospitals based in Royal Oak, MI. “We really don’t have the time to do new training on all these topics, but [the safety fair] really helps.”

Draw inspiration from the horizon

Beaumont’s safety fair earlier this year in the parking lot not only addressed detailed topics such as radiation safety, hazardous materials handling, and security, but it also hit hard on emergency management, a Joint Commission priority over the past few years.

Wilson and his safety fair planning committee peers got their inspiration for the topics by seeing what Joint Commission standards or OSHA regulations have changed or will be changing, as well as what’s happening in the news (e.g., H1N1 swine flu concerns).

“Basically, we tried to get information out to our staff, but in a fun way,” Wilson says. That included inviting local police and fire departments to set up their equipment: fire extinguishers, decontamination gear, and even a mobile communications trailer for disaster response.

Colvin advises safety managers to involve as many departments as possible in the planning process, which helps identify issues to focus on during the fair. UAB includes the procurement department that deals with supplies and equipment, the infection control office, patient safety representatives, the employee health office, and vendors. Together they determine what internal concerns need the most attention with safety fair content and emphasize equipment training and best practices.

Since UAB’s first fair several years ago, the planners also polled participants on what they learned and what they thought needed to be covered in future fairs. This year’s fair featured a station for the environmental services department, based on suggestions from previous years.

Create incentives for participation

If your safety fair’s content is strong, the next effort must focus on ways to encourage employees to attend. The following are Colvin and Wilson’s suggestions for engaging passersby:

  • Offer prizes. A lot of people like to stick around for door-prize drawings. For example, Beaumont offered home emergency preparation kits and fire extinguishers, which were appropriate to the content of its fair. Items such as cafeteria vouchers or gift shop credits and gear such as stethoscopes also appeal to attendees, Colvin says.
  • Create a game-like atmosphere. Bowling and Jeopardy! with safety-oriented messages attracted a good number of participants at past safety fairs, Wilson says.
  • Give away food. At Beaumont, the hospital’s bake shop made cookies that workers love. At UAB, meals were given to attendees who proved they participated in a certain number of educational activities with stamped cards.
  • Time the activities conveniently. Can your safety fair straddle two shifts? Try early to mid-morning or late afternoon so you can catch staff members both coming and going.

Given the recession, you may face obstacles funding a safety fair. See the tips in the related story below for ideas to cut expenses.

Try these steps to minimize your safety fair’s costs

In this hostile economy, getting funds to hold a safety fair may be a tough sell with your administrator. With that in mind, use the following cost-cutting tips for your next fair:

  • Call for donated prizes. Local businesses, vendors, even in-house sources (e.g., the gift shop) might be willing to pitch in.
  • Hit up local retailers for supplies. Need plywood to build platforms, for example? Ask your local hardware store for donations and give them credit during the fair.
  • Apply for grants. Your local or regional emergency management consortium may have money set aside for education, and having a safety fair with emphasis on your hospital’s disaster preparation might make you eligible. A recent safety fair at Beaumont Hospitals based in Royal Oak, MI, cost less than $1,000—including tent rental and prize purchase—and it was covered in whole by such a grant, says William Wilson, CFPS, PEM, Beaumont’s fire safety coordinator.
  • Ask your marketing and PR offices to help. The marketing and PR folks typically reach out to the community, but chances are they will be happy to devote some bandwidth to your safety fair. Marketing professionals can help sharpen your messages, create materials, and get the word out about the event in printed materials and on the hospital’s Web site.
  • Invite community responders. Local public service–minded partners may be willing to come and offer education on matters germane to their jobs, such as fire safety, patient handling, flu vaccines, and security. Beaumont’s community partners were eager to set up at the safety fair, Wilson says.
  • Involve your vendors. This approach can be tricky, says Ann Colvin, RN, advanced nursing coordinator at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. The hospital lets outside vendors come and set up tables at its safety fair, provided they are companies with equipment that the hospital has already purchased and is using. The vendors are also required to educate employees who visit their tables and not just give away knick-knacks. For the privilege of participation, Colvin charged a $250 fee for each of the 44 vendors who set up at this year’s fair, which funded the event.

Regarding vendor involvement, don’t be afraid to invite the vendors whose equipment you have the most trouble with or those you call the most for support requests, Colvin says. “We don’t invite people who are looking to get in our doors. They have to be people already supplying us,” she says.

The one exception happened a few years back, when the hospital was considering competing electronic charting systems. Colvin and her peers used the safety fair to solicit employee input about the finalists before making the major equipment purchase.

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