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Human Resource-Related Policies That Conflict With a Just Culture

May 31, 2016

As healthcare organizations move toward a Just Culture, one of the areas potentially overlooked is the organization’s human resource-related policies and procedures. Because these policies and procedures typically describe staff expectations, individual accountability, and disciplinary processes, they must be reviewed and often revised to ensure alignment with the tenets of a Just Culture. Otherwise, the journey will be long and unsuccessful if the policies are in conflict with it. 

In a Just Culture, human resource-related policies and procedures regarding safety should hold all individuals equally accountable for the quality of their behavioral choices and should not focus on errors (which are not a behavioral choice) except for the expectation to report them. The policies and procedures should reflect a tone that is proactive toward risk identification rather than reactive to errors and adverse outcomes. They should define human error as inadvertent, with a response of consoling individuals and conducting an investigation to determine how to redesign systems to prevent the errors or detect them before reaching the patient.

Policies and procedures should describe how to investigate a procedural violation to determine its causes and scope, and how to coach staff who have engaged in at-risk behaviors under the mistaken, but good faith, belief that the risks were insignificant or justified. For outcome-based duties related to a business code of conduct, such as arriving to work on time and wearing identification badges, policies should be clear about expectations and the actions that will be taken when they are not met.

When describing reckless behavior (actions involving a conscious disregard of what an individual knows is a substantial and unjustifiable risk), remove any reference to “negligent” or “criminal” conduct as the basis for disciplinary action. Regrettably, mere human error can result in legal action (criminal negligence), but human error is never reckless behavior. Also ensure that event reporting and investigation policies and procedures support the tenets of a Just Culture.    

Does your organization claim to have a Just Culture? Do you think your hospitals follows the principals of a Just Culture?


Matthew Grissinger, RPh, FISMP, FASCP, is the Director of Error Reporting Programs at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

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