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Will it go ’round in circles? A couple more pieces of the COVID-19 pie

As I try to embrace brevity as the soul of wit (which is likely to be as close to Shakespearean as this space is ever likely to venture), I have just a couple of resources to share with you folks this week. I do hope this finds you settling in (at least somewhat) to the current reality and the “new” stressors have subsided a bit.

Clearly, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the protection of healthcare workers, mostly as a function of providing essential personal protective equipment (and the struggles that folks have faced in procuring said PPE). What is somewhat sketchier at the moment it to how organizations/employers are going to be held accountable for worker protection in the aftermath of the pandemic condition. But you might be able to gain some sense of things by consulting our friends at the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration. While the OSHA website does speak of “discretion” in enforcement activities when considering an employer’s “good faith” efforts, I think it will be of critical importance that we be able to speak to a risk assessment to determine where folks jobs/tasks fall on the exposure continuum. OSHA indicates a spread of low, medium, high, and very high as risk categories with the enjoinder “(u)ntil more is known about how COVID-19 spreads, OSHA recommends using a combination of standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and eye protection (e.g., goggles, face shields) to protect healthcare workers with exposure to the virus.” They also encourage the use of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as the primary source of current strategies, etc., so we can all work from the same source.

One of the other common threads of discussion relates to the disinfection of surfaces, etc., for which I would encourage you to check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of approved disinfectants (hopefully whatever your organization is using is on the list; not necessarily a deal-breaker if it isn’t, but there are always risks when one goes off-list). I keep reflecting on the reality that, in all likelihood, we won’t know what worked/didn’t work, etc., until this is long past it’s point of criticality, so it’s important to make sure that we can evidence a thoughtful process in identifying strategies. As of this writing (April 21), there does seem to be a growing unrest to get things back to normal, with some states opting to employ less restrictive strategies for distancing (in all its many permutations—who knew?). I am hopeful that we won’t be having this same discussion a month (or two months) from now if there is a resurgence, but it does seem inopportune to try and short-circuit a process before we have enough data to support easing up on things. I guess it all goes back to what they say about time—it will tell!

Stay safe!

These are a few of my favorite things: Safety Risk Assessments!

A somewhat mixed bag of news items for you this week: a cornucopia of compelling content, if you will…

The Center for Health Design has published a pretty cool safety risk assessment tool that is available free on its website, although you do have to register (also free). The web page offers an introductory video describing the risk assessment, so you can check it out before you register.

In other news, Maine became the first state to ban flame retardants in upholstered furniture. As I travel the highways and byways of these United States, I see a fair amount of holiday decorations that have been treated with flame retardant sprays of various manufacture as folks try to provide a cheery environment for patients and not run afoul of the safety Grinches (and I use that term with all due respect and affection, having been a Grinch myself once or twice in the past). I don’t know if we’ll be able to say “as Maine goes, so goes the nation,” but this might have some interesting impact on the field-treating of combustible decorations.

As our final note this week, data from the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study II suggests that there is an increased risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) among nurses with frequent exposure (at least once a week) to disinfectants in certain tasks (cleaning of surfaces, etc.): . The study indicates some of the “culprits” as glutaraldehyde, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and quaternary ammonium compounds. The article on the link also indicates that a recent European study of folks working as cleaners also showed an increased risk for COPD (somehow, not a surprising revelation to me). I think the bottom line on this (and perhaps our charge moving forward) is (and the article doesn’t really mention this) ensuring that folks are using appropriate PPE when they are using those types (or any type) of disinfectant products. PPE is always a tough thing to “sell” to folks, and while I think folks do understand that there are risks involved (just as there are risks associated with all sorts of behaviors—smoking springs to mind), there does seem to be a reluctance to take proper precautions every time one engages in these types of activities. I know this stuff isn’t particularly “sexy” when it comes to the topics of the day, but reinforcing basic protective measures can’t be a completely lost cause, can it?