Comparing safety climate in naval aviation and hospitals: Implications for improving patient safety


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Abstract

Background:Evidence of variation in safety climate suggests the need for improvement among at least some hospitals. However, comparisons only among hospitals may underestimate the improvement required. Comparison of hospitals with analogous industries may provide a broader perspective on the safety status of our nation's hospitals.Purpose:The purpose of this study was to compare safety climate among hospital workers with personnel from naval aviation, an organization that operates with high reliability despite intrinsically hazardous conditions.Methodology:We surveyed a random sample of health care workers in 67 U.S. hospitals and, for generalizability, 30 veterans affairs hospitals using questions comparable with those posed at approximately the same time (2007) to a census of personnel from 35 squadrons of U.S. naval aviators. We received 13,841 (41%) completed surveys in U.S. hospitals, 5,511 (50%) in veterans affairs hospitals, and 14,854 (82%) among naval aviators. We examined differences in respondents' perceptions of safety climate at their institution overall and for 16 individual items.Findings:Safety climate was three times better on average among naval aviators than among hospital personnel. Naval aviators perceived a safer climate (up to seven times safer) than hospital personnel with respect to each of the 16 survey items. Compared with hospital managers, naval commanders perceived climate more like frontline personnel did. When contrasting naval aviators with hospital personnel working in comparably hazardous areas, safety climate discrepancies increased rather than decreased. One individual hospital performed as well as naval aviation on average, and at least one hospital outperformed the Navy benchmark for all but three individual survey items.Practice Implications:Results suggest that hospitals have not sufficiently created a uniform priority of safety. However, if each hospital performed as well as the top-performing hospital in each area measured, hospitals could achieve safety climate levels comparable with naval aviation. Major interventions to bolster hospital safety climate continue to be required to improve patient safety.

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