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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Feeling Safe in Reporting Errors

Published October 10, 2012 8:50 AM by Linda Jones
Whether a professional admits to an honest mistake or tries to cover it up may hinge on the manager and how the staffer believes the confession will be received.

As reported in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers surveyed 54 nursing teams in four hospitals in Belgium and found that nurses are more likely to report patient-care errors when they feel safe admitting them to their supervisors.

The researchers asked nurses about their work environments and the behavioral integrity of their managers. They asked the nurses: "If you make a mistake in this team, it is often held against you?" Other questions determined whether nurses believe their managers follow safety rules and if safety is sometimes compromised "to get the work done."
The research found that when managers "practiced" safety measures and did not just talk about them, and when nurses felt they would not be punished for making an error, more attention was paid to safety and fewer errors were made.

As a manager, it's easy to say you have an open door policy and that people won't be punished for makingn a mistake, but practicing it is another thing. It's difficult not to react negatively to a report of an error. As well, managers need to balance accepting accidents as accidents with evaluating the skill levels of staff. If the same employee is making mistakes repeatedly, it's a performance issue and needs to be addressed. As the saying goes: "You can never make the same mistake twice, because the second time you make it, it becomes a choice and not a mistake."

How does your manager maintain this balance; does she/he react appropriately when an error is reported? Do you have a policy and a culture on your unit that makes you feel safe in reporting errors?

posted by Linda Jones

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