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Perspectives on Safety > Interview
Just Culture, October 2007
An engineer and an attorney by training, David Marx, JD, is president of Outcome Engineering, a risk management firm. After a career focused on safety assessment and improvement in aviation, he has spent the last decade focusing on the interface between systems engineering, human factors, and the law. In 2001, he wrote a seminal paper describing the concept of just culture, which became a focal point for efforts to reconcile notions of "no blame" and "accountability." He has gone on to form the "Just Culture Community" to address these issues at health care institutions around the country.
Journal Article > Commentary
Wachter RM, Pronovost PJ. N Engl J Med. 2009;361:1401-1406.
An early focus of the patient safety movement was a shift from the traditional culture of individual blame to one that investigated errors as the failure of systems, popularized by adoption of James Reason's Swiss cheese model of organizational accidents. In recent years, there has been some backlash against a unidimensional systems-focused model, with past commentaries exploring the tension between a "no blame" culture and individual accountability. Articles in this genre have considered this tension in the educational setting, and a popular construct involves a just culture framework, which differentiates "no blame" from blameworthy acts. This commentary, written by two of the leaders in the safety field, further explores the relationship between blame and accountability, discusses why enforcement of safety standards tends to be lax (particularly in cases involving physicians), and proposes a working balance that not only promotes a safety culture but also safe patient care. The authors highlight hand hygiene non-compliance as an example of a behavior that should be managed through an accountability framework, with providers held accountable for failure to adhere to a known safety standard. They also offer suggested penalties (mostly involving suspension of clinical privileges) for repeated failures to comply with hand hygiene and other established safe practices.