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Why are we here? Because we’re here!

One item came up on the radar this past week or so and it appears (I poked around in the archival blogosphere and could find no mention) that I’ve not discussed this before—mea maxima culpa! This has the potential for generating some findings, perhaps at a higher risk level than would seem reasonable in the moment, but I guess that will sort itself out one way or the other.

I can’t quite remember how it all came to be, but at some point in the misty past, I was “schooled” that decontamination showers (like the ones that you typically find in areas near emergency room ambulance entrances) are not required to undergo weekly testing as they are not, as defined, “emergency eyewash or shower equipment” and, thus, not subject to the requirements of ANSI Z358.1 Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment. I was skeptical at the time, but I can say that the latter part of that concept is, indeed, correct in that decontamination shower equipment is not subject to ANSI Z358.1. But it is not correct relative to the weekly testing sequence because there is an ANSI standard—ANSI 113 Standard for Fixed and Portable Decontamination Shower Units—that covers decontamination showers and, lo and behold, it covers exactly what is required for those pesky fixed and portable decon shower units. So we have:

7.2 Fixed shower units shall be activated weekly for a period long enough to verify operation and ensure that flushing fluid is available.

That should sound familiar as a general concept, so you may need to add the decon shower(s) to the weekly to-do list, but things get even more interesting for the portables:

7.3 Portable shower units shall be deployed every 3 months to ensure proper operation.

I’m going to guess that we have some room for improvement on the weekly testing side of things, but I’m going to guess that we may even more of an opportunity on the portable side of things (those of you who possess portable decon showers). I daresay it’s almost enough to make someone not want to have anything elaborate or portable when it comes to decon shower equipment. I’ll let you gnaw on that for a bit…

Education < / = / > Achievement: Don’t Let Survey Prep Get in the Way of Good Sense

I’d like to start off this week with an interesting (and hopefully instructive) tale from the field:

I was doing some work recently at an organization that is facing down the final six months of its survey window. This was my first visit to the facility and I was working on getting a sense of the place as well as identifying the usual list of survey vulnerabilities. As we’ve discussed before, one of the things that’s always in the mix, particularly with the gang from Chicago, is the care and feeding of emergency eyewash stations. This particular organization has adopted the strategy of having folks at the department level perform the weekly testing (a sensible approach from my standpoint—I think the most important piece of the weekly testing is helping to ensure that folks who might actually need the eyewash in an emergency actually know how the darn thing works), but the documentation form had two columns: one for the date and one for the signature of the person doing the test. The sheet did not, however, have any instructions on it, which prompted me to inquire as to how folks would know what (and why) they are checking, since the purpose is not just to run the water. The response to my inquiry was rather noncommittal, which is not that unusual, so I continued to collect data relative to the process. So, over the course of the facility tour, we found a couple of eyewashes with missing caps and no clear indication on the testing form that this had been identified as an issue. OK, not crazily unusual, but pointing towards a process that could use some tweaking. A couple of eyewashes with obstructed access provided a little more data.

Then we made our way to the kitchen. No real compliance issues with the eyewash itself, but I noted that they were checking the eyewash station on a daily basis and recording the temperature at that same frequency. Now, the ANSI standard does not require daily verification of eyewash flushing fluid temperature, so I asked about this particular practice (BTW: Nowhere else had we seen this practice—at least not yet …) and was informed another hospital in the region had been cited for not doing the daily temp checks (I have not been able to verify that this was an actual survey finding, but sometimes believing is enough … to cause trouble). And then we headed over to the lab and ran into a similar practice (they were just verifying the temps during the weekly test) and the feedback there was that a College of American Pathologists (CAP) surveyor had told them a story about an individual that had suffered eye damage because the (low temperature) water from the eyewash interacted with a chemical. This was not written up as a finding, but was relayed as an anecdotal recommendation.

The “funny” thing about all this (actually, there are a couple of process gaps) is that each of the eyewash stations in question are equipped with mixing valves, which pretty much mitigates the need for daily or weekly temperature checks (you want to check the temp when you’re doing the annual preventive maintenance activity). But the more telling/unfortunate aspect of this is that (independent of each other) these folks had unilaterally adopted a process modification that was not in keeping with the rest of the organization (it has been said, and this is generally true, that you get more credit for being consistently wrong than inconsistently right). Now, one of the big truisms of the survey process is that is almost impossible to push back when you are not compliant with your own policy/practice. And while I absolutely appreciate (particularly when the survey window is closing) wanting to “do the right thing,” it is of critical importance to discuss any changes (never mind changes in the late innings) with the folks responsible for the EOC program. While I pride myself on not telling folks that they have to do something that is not specifically required by code or regulation, some of the regulatory survey folks don’t share that reticence. The other potential dynamic for these “mythical” requirements is when a surveyor tells an organization something that doesn’t show up in the actual report. I run into this all the time—they may “look” at the finding in the report, but what they sometimes react to is what the surveyor “said.” Compliance has way more than 50 shades of whatever color you care to designate and what works/worked somewhere else doesn’t always work everywhere, so folks make these changes without knowing what is actually required and end up increasing the potential for a survey finding.

And healthcare isn’t the only pursuit in which incomplete communications (or making sure that communications are as complete as they can be) can have an impact. At the moment, I am reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield (this, apparently, is going to be the summer for reading astronaut memoirs, be that as it may) and I came across a passage in which Hadfield describes a debriefing following a practice spacewalk in which one of the instructors noted that while Hadfield has a “very clear and authoritative manner,” he encouraged the folks participating in the debrief to not be “lulled into a feeling of complete confidence that he’s right.” As soon as I saw that, I was able to tie it back to the management of surveyors who speak in a “very clear and authoritative manner” and sometimes turn out not to be worthy of complete confidence that the surveyor is correct. If you are doing something that, in good faith and the extent of your knowledge, is the “right thing” and somebody (even me!) comes along and says you’re not doing that right, never be afraid to ask to see where it says that in the code/regulation, etc. (BTW: I’m not giving you permission to be obnoxious about it!) Surveyors (same for consultants) see a lot of stuff and sometimes compliance becomes a fixed idea, or process, in their head, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. And if you hear something that makes you think you have a vulnerability (something you’ve heard through that pesky grapevine), talk it out before you make any changes. That gives everyone in your organization a fighting chance at compliance.

As a final note, if you’ve forgotten about Col. Hadfield’s most notable performance (beyond the astronaut thing), check it out:

Temper Temper(ature)

In the continuing pursuit of every possible question that could ever be asked about eyewash stations, there’s been some chatter recently (as well as some field encounters) relative to what is involved with the weekly operational testing of emergency eyewash equipment, particularly whether or not you have to verify the temperature of the flushing fluid. The “good” news is that while there is a requirement to periodically verify the temperature of the flushing liquid, that period is one that is some 52 weeks in length, so we can put that down for an annual visitation. Having said that, I’m thinking this might be a fine opportunity to cover the basic goals of the weekly test (I find there is frequently a bit of a gap in terms of front-line staff’s understanding of the reasons behind the testing).

Let’s start with the ANSI standard. The intent of the weekly activation from the ANSI perspective is to ensure that there is a flushing fluid supply at the head of the device and to clear the supply line of any sediment buildup that could interfere with flow (that’s why you do the test with the caps on – if the pressure isn’t sufficient to “pop” the caps, then there may be some blockage). Running the water also helps to minimize any contamination due to stagnant water.

Another common question is, “How long should I run the water?” The answer is “It depends.” I think we’ve discussed this before, but once more unto the breach: You have to consider the amount of water contained in the eyewash itself, and the water which is in all the sections of piping that do not form part of a constant circulation (a “dead leg” in the plumbing, as it were). Since water tends to be stagnant in these sections until a flow is activated, you need to run the device long enough to flush out all the stagnant water. This may take a little bit of figuring, but once you’ve figured out the time period, you should be good to go.

You also want to make sure that the eyewash equipment is completely accessible, the protective caps are in place, and someone hasn’t installed a cabinet over the device close enough to result in a head injury if someone tries to use the eyewash (don’t laugh – I’ve whacked my head more than once trying to fit my noggin into a confined eyewash. Yes, I realize that head trauma probably explains a lot, but that is an entirely different topic of conversation). Ultimately, it’s about making sure that if someone gets some bad stuff in their eyes, they have an appropriate means of responding to that exposure. Hopefully, it’s not something we need to use very often, but if we have the eyewash stations, we have to properly maintain them.