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On your marks, get set, sweat!

But hopefully not a Billy Idol kind of sweat…

Our friends in Chicago are once again tweaking the survey process, with the result being less time for surveyors to wait for organizations to muster their troops at the outset and pretty much no time at all before they are out and about doing tracers. Basically, what used to be the surveyor planning session in the morning of the first survey day is now being flipped and combined with the special issue resolution session at the end of the day. For organizations to adapt their process to the changes, folks should be prepared to do the following:

  • Prompt alert of/to the leadership team of any on-site survey to facilitate their availability for a prompt opening conference (I can’t think of too many folks who are not already doing this)
  • Prepare all required documentation and deliver those documents to the survey team immediately after the team is escorted to their “base” (the list of required documents is available in the Survey Activity Guide, although it begs the question as to whether this includes the life safety documentation…)
  • Gather the scribes together so they are ready to hit the pavement as soon as the (ever-so-brief) opening conference is completed

Somehow I think this may all tie across with the folks from CMS accompanying the Joint Commission folks as part of the validation process—anyone who has dealt with a state and/or CMS survey will tell you, there’s not a lot of time (or indeed, inclination) for pleasantries. The job of being prickly requires a lot of inflexibility, which does seem to be the hallmark of the current survey process.

These changes to the survey process are effective March 2020.

I sit at my table and wage war on myself—and earn an OSHA citation!

While I have a sneaking suspicion that this Top 10 list doesn’t change a whole lot from year to year (other than position in the hierarchy), I thought it would be of interest to trot out which occupational safety considerations are manifesting themselves across industries. I can certainly see where any of these might crop up in healthcare.

And so, to the list:

10: Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection

9: Machine Guarding

8: Fall Protection – Training Requirements

7: Powered Industrial Trucks

6: Ladders

5: Respiratory Protection

4: Lockout/Tagout

3: Scaffolding

2: Hazard Communication

1: Fall Protection

Again, no big surprises, but I guess it does point out some areas for future consideration, mostly as a function of initial and ongoing safety education. These are the types of things, especially when dealing with contractors, that can result in a very uncomfortable situation if something goes sideways on your campus—even if it’s not your staff. Once the Big O gets through the door, it’s tough to contain their interest in all things safety.

Closing out this week, one of the questions that seems to be coming up with greater frequency during Joint Commission surveys relates to how your organization determines that the individual(s) tasked with doing your rated door inspections are knowledgeable/competent (we know from our intense scrutiny of NFPA 80 that these folks do not need to be certified; it is a handy way to demonstrate that an individual is knowledgeable, but you can certainly evaluate/validate competency in other ways). And pondering that equation made me a little more interested in the following news story than might normally have been the case (there isn’t a time when I wouldn’t have been interested, but this was an especially telling confluence). It seems that an individual has been accused of defrauding some VA hospitals by billing them for work that had not been performed; a little more detail can be found here. I know a lot of folks have struggled over the years with vendors who prefer to “come and go as they please,” which typically results in less control over the process, including timely notifications of discrepancies. I’m curious as to how this ends up when it makes its way through the courts, but I can see a time when those pesky surveyors might start to ask about how one knows that the service for which they have documentation actually occurred. Hopefully this case is all a big misunderstanding and there were no real gaps in oversight…

What we all want: If everything is priority one, then everything is priority none

As our friends from Chicago appear to be embarking in earnest on their charge to be as unpredictable as possible (I know of one instance in which a triennial survey “landed” about 10 months early—if that doesn’t merit a “yow,” I’m not sure what does…), the general concept of constant readiness would seem to be in flux (I think we all “knew” that the true survey window was considerably more limited than what it could be).

To that point, lately I’ve been working with folks who are well and truly within a survey window (lots of folks poking around in healthcare organizations these days…) and I’ve been noticing a tendency for folks requesting things to use “tomorrow” (or something similarly unrealistic) when identifying a requested completion date. And then raising a fuss when things are not repaired/replaced/refurbished almost instantly, which puts the folks who actually have to get the work done in a rather precarious position, depending on how quickly/dramatically the fussiness gets escalated. I think we can agree that expectations like instantaneous gratification do not lend themselves to thoughtful assessment of risk, or even (truth be told) basic triaging of tasks. I know that in crisis mode things can become a little unhinged, but the way the survey process is starting to turn, if we don’t find a way to really hardwire that classic finder/fixer dynamic as a way of like, the potential for chaos as a way of life is fairly strong.

So, the question I have for you out there in the studio audience is this: Does anybody have any unique methodologies they’d be inclined to share? I will freely admit to being at something of a disadvantage in that it has been a very, very long time (other than some interim gigs) since I’ve had day-to-day operational responsibilities in a hospital so there are probably technology solutions, etc., that could be leveraged in pursuit of focused order. But I also know that there is still a fair amount of what I like to call the “corridor work order request,” which, in my younger years, was probably not that big a deal, but now, as I approach my dotage, I find that I am not able to instantly recall quite as much “stuff” (I’m still pretty good, but the seams are much more apparent now).

I’m sure you are all following (with perhaps varying degrees of trepidation) the events unfolding in China relative to the Wuhan coronavirus; if you’re not making a regular stop at the CDC website for updates, etc., I would highly suggest it be a touch point at least every day or so. It’s starting to manifest itself a  bit stateside and I suppose, given the omnipresence of travel these days, it’s only a matter of time before it starts showing up in less-populated regions of the country. You can find as much information as is available here. Hopefully, this one subsides quickly, but preparedness, it seems, is everything these days.

Don’t get soaked by your water management program!

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been finding the most interesting stuff being published in Perspectives are the articles entitled “Consistent Interpretation” because I am fascinated by the data they are collecting that drives taking particular note of the standard or performance element being featured. For example, the January 2020 issue covers the intricacies of managing the risks associated with waterborne pathogens, a topic that I’ve been keeping an eye on if only because of the attentions paid to that topic by our friends at CMS (if you’ve lost track of where they are in the fray, feel free to make the jump—but don’t forget to come back!). I figure there are just enough peculiarities involved for this to wreak some havoc during accreditation surveys, and while there are ways for survey findings to be generated, it would appear (based on the just under 4% citation rate during the first half of 2019) that you folks out there in the field are making pretty good headway.

So, where things can go awry include: Not having a water management plan to deal with waterborne pathogen risks (not sure how someone would have missed that, but perhaps it was a question of a slower than normal implementation track); failing to include a new piece of equipment (for instance, a brand new cooling tower) in the program (I should think the time for risk assessment and inclusion is during the commissioning of new equipment); failing to maintain the water in the system in accordance with the levels called for in the water management plan; failing to document scheduled testing and monitoring; and failing to establish acceptable ranges and/or control measures to be taken when levels are out of range.

It would seem that decorative water features, ice machines, and water dispensers were in the mix as well, including issues with equipment not being maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions for use, but in looking at all the different ways water management concerns could be cited, I suspect a lot of the cited conditions (you can find more specifics in the January Perspectives) were not widely observed.

That said, since a lot of the nuts and bolts implementation of water management programs may be accomplished by “others,” I think that going forward, the surveyors will be especially attentive to reviewing your water management plan and any deliverables from testing and monitoring activities. There are a lot of moving parts in this endeavor; best to be ahead of the curve and keep a close eye on those reports.

2020 starts with a whimper…probably mine!

A fairly brief opening salvo for the New Year: I am hoping it will continue to be difficult to come up with material for this space because that will likely mean we’ve reached something of an equilibrium relative to funky compliance stuff. After the last decade, I think we can probably all use a bit of a rest from the madness…

For those of you keeping track of the goings on in Chicago, you’ve no doubt received any number of exhortations over the past couple of weeks to check out the “new” (the “improved” is somewhat implied, but if you order in the next five minutes, they’ll double your order!) Joint Commission website.  I will say that they have definitely spiffed up the look of the place—everything looks bigger and brighter. But (and isn’t there almost always one of them?), in retooling things, some of the less recent links to material are no longer working. To that point, I had saved a couple of links to share this week, and now that they don’t work, I can’t quite say what it was that I found of particular interest (shame on me for not leaving a better trail of bread crumbs, though perhaps those pesky birds…). So, if you do some archival digging in this space (and perhaps others as well), you may find yourself at the business end of an error message indicating a non-functioning link. Having said that, if you should follow a link from Mac’s Safety Space that dumps you somewhere in the ether, please let me know and I will either try to find the “current” whereabouts of the information you’re looking for or provide some level of analysis to assist you in your efforts.

As an almost completely unrelated item to finish this up for the week, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent finding relating to space heaters that might prove timely given this age of polar vortices (vortexes?) and all manner of cold weather. The finding relates to a portable space heater in a nurse station, with the enjoinder that, for the purposes of this performance element, nurse stations are considered patient treatment areas (looping back on the prohibition of portable space heaters in smoke compartments containing sleeping rooms and patient treatment areas). You can have them in offices that meet the definition of non-sleeping rooms, which are occupied by staff and separated from the corridor and are permitted to have portable space heaters (the heating elements must not exceed 212°F). I’m sure you know where the folks with the cold feet live, so make sure you keep a close eye on the heater situation.

Do you still BBI? Also, how do you spell survey finding?


While I am not convinced it every truly went away, next month marks the official return of one of the most (in)famous acronyms in surveydom: BBI, which we all know stands for Basic Building Information (details can be found here). So, for those of you for whom survey is imminent, you might (if you have not already done so) want to hop on to your online Statement of Conditions portal to make sure that all your information is up to date, all required responses are in place, etc. Since this is nominally a “new” requirement, I think it best to presume that the Life Safety surveyors are going to be reviewing the contents, so you want to make sure you have a good read on your square footage numbers and all the rest of it. I don’t see this representing a particularly great risk of survey exposure, but I’d hate to see somebody out there in the audience to get tapped for something so simple.

In other news (and I would consider this more troubling in the long term), back in September, the updates to some of the Environment of Care performance elements for office-based surgery practices were published (details here). While the updates relate mostly to invocation of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® and the applicable reference documents, it also (and this may me being a touch paranoid—’tis always the season) may be indicative of a shift in focus for what documentation might be requested for care locations that are nominally business occupancies. I have definitely seen this (though I wouldn’t yet call it a trend, though it’s getting there) in state surveys of larger healthcare organizations, so it may just be a matter of time before evidence of compliance is requested for all the various life safety systems in place at your offsite locations (remembering that this does not mandate the presence of fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, etc.—it only requires you to appropriately maintain any existing systems).

On a final note for this week, it would seem that some folks are using their work order system to provide evidence of scheduled activities like monthly testing/inspections of battery-powered lights, exit signs, task lighting, etc., and I just wanted to let you know that in the absence of an inventory of devices by location, there are some surveyors (and perhaps even more than just some surveyors) that will not accept a completed/closed out work order as evidence of compliance for these activities. Recognizing that the standards-based requirement for the “inventory” (in all its glory) has not specifically been extended to utility systems equipment (though I have anticipated that extension for a while), I think it may be time to start including the same level of detail as required for life safety systems inspection, testing and maintenance activities:

  • Name of the activity
  • Date of the activity
  • Inventory of devices, equipment, or other items
  • Required frequency of the activity
  • Name and contact information, including affiliation, of the person who performed the activity
  • NFPA standard(s) referenced for the activity
  • Results of the activity

I suppose to a fair degree it makes sense for inspection, testing, and maintenance documentation to have a standard format and it certainly helps to establish compliance in a fashion that is recognizable to surveyors. I guess we’ll just have to keep a watchful eye on this one…

It appears that everything isn’t meant to be OK…

You may recall a few weeks back we were discussing some recent survey findings relative to the placement of eyewash stations once one has determined that one needs an eyewash station (or stations). At the time, my dream was to clarify those findings and have them vanish into the ether (which is pretty much where they belong). But alas, that dream crashed upon the rocks of an overreach—can’t say for sure if this signals a sea change or is based on a reluctance to overturn a judgement call in the field. The ruling from the home office read thusly (but not justly): “The organization must do a risk assessment to determine if substances that may be in the sink would not splash onto the person using the eyewash station and inadvertently be contaminated.”

And so, I guess we add an additional imponderable to the equation: How do we install the eyewash station close enough to the area of greatest risk without placing the eyewash in a location that could be adjudged to be too close to the risk area? I suppose the ultimate goal would be to try to remove the hazard entirely, but with all the focus on disinfection and the likelihood that whatever disinfectant in use is going to be firmly in the high-risk zone, that seems unlikely to win favor during survey. Is it possible to “sell” engineering controls to a surveyor that is looking to find things to cite? I think we can all agree that the use of PPE and other forms of engineering controls are probably never going to be the interventions we would hope for them to be, but it is often so difficult to protect folks from themselves.

That said, I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst idea to do a little global evaluation of your eyewash station locations (much like a conjunction function) and add yet another risk assessment to the mix. If you’ve got a survey coming up in the near future, it may save you some aggravation.


Who remembers pop-o-matic Trouble?

In something of a variation on another bloggy evergreen, I ask the rhetorical question: To what, if any, extent have you included consideration of  board games in your physical environment risk assessments for behavioral health? As I think towards a generation (are they already here?) for which the glories of board games will be forever lost, our friends in Chicago offer the latest challenge in managing risks with our all-too-vulnerable patient populations (for those of you of a certain vintage, the description of a board game is very nearly worth the price of admission).

The article describes the quite inventive use of a plastic board game piece to defeat the reptilian tamper-resistant screws and suggest some alternative products that do not so easily surrender to such efforts. I don’t know that I’ve been privy to a lot of discussion relative to board games in the behavioral health setting, but I suppose this would come under the heading of “everything has an inherent, though perhaps not apparent, risk.” Based on some recent surveys, it seems that Joint Commission surveyors have been rather inventive in looking for physical environment elements that have not been specifically accounted for in the assessment process. The classic example is including medical beds in the risk assessment, but not specifically mentioning the risks associated with the ligature-resistance (or not) of the side rails, bed frame, etc. Sooooooo, if they have not yet been included in your risk assessment activities, it might be a good time to pull a little group together and ponder the use of board games (and perhaps other such items) as a function of the behavioral health physical environment risk assessment.

Should we think about Halloween candy as well?!?

Check and mate!

Crying my eyes out: The never-ending story of emergency eyewash equipment!

October seems to be shaping up into a “greatest hits” kind of month as we once again dig back into the closet of perennial findings—this week finds us in the realm of managing occupational exposure to chemicals.

With the information contained in the September issue of Perspectives, it looked like findings relating to hazardous materials and wastes (which were mostly related to eyewash stations) had dropped off the Top 10 list (it was the #9 most-frequently cited standard for 2018), which I saw as a good thing. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the knowledge-base of the surveyor corps relative to the management of occupational exposures to hazardous materials leaves a little bit to desire, and rather prone to over-interpretation of what does and what does not constitute an inappropriately managed risk. You could, of course, (and I certainly have) give voice to the thought that over-interpretation is something of a standard practice amongst the surveyors of the world and you’d get very little in the way of argument from me. But there are a couple of recent findings that kind of crystallized (at least for me), the intersection of over-interpretation and a limited knowledge of the practical/operational aspects of appropriate management of occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals.

So, we have the following:

  • A single container of bleach in a storage room becomes a finding of moderate risk because the pH level of bleach requires the installation of an eyewash station

Now, purely from a reasonable risk assessment standpoint (and in recognition of the very remote likelihood that the container of bleach is going to somehow vomit its contents), the mere presence/storage of a corrosive does not (in my mind) constitute a risk of occupational exposure. If someone is pouring the bleach into another container (which is not the case here—again, only storage), then the risk of occupational exposure comes into play. The image that I conjured up relative to this is the local grocery store—gallons upon gallons of bleach—and nary an eyewash in sight (and yes, while OSHA doesn’t really jump ugly relative to customer exposure, the risks to customer and in-house staff is probably about equal). I suppose the best course for a corrective action would be to remove the bleach and be done with it. That said, this seems a bit of a reach…

  • Two eyewash stations (one in a soiled utility room and one in a scope decontamination room) that were located at dirty sinks in these areas, increasing the risk of staff exposure to contamination

Now, my philosophy regarding the location of emergency eyewash equipment is that you want to install them in locations as close to the point of likely exposure as is possible/reasonable, which sometimes (maybe even often) means that you install them on the only sink in a soiled utility room, etc. And you do that because?!? You do that because, the emergency eyewash station is equipped with protective covers to ensure that the emergency eyewash does not get contaminated, so you can install them in the locations in which they would be of the greatest benefit in an emergency, which might very well be in a soiled location.

It seems that the mystery of eyewash stations will never be completely solved…

If you don’t signal, how will I know where you want to go? Emergency management and its discontents (Just What You Needed)!

Kind of a mixed bag this week, though it all fits under the heading of emergency management, so here goes nothing…

A few weeks ago, USA Today did a story on the preparedness levels of the United States based on an analysis of state-by-state metrics. The story was based on a study, the National Health Security Preparedness Index, prepared by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and covers a lot of ground relative to trends in preparedness, including governmental spending on preparedness and some other stuff. The reason I “noticed” this was the indication that my home state was “best prepared” for disasters, etc., but the overarching message was that, even in the face of some setbacks in individual regions, the nation continues to improve emergency preparedness. Of course, it being USA Today, there are color slides indicating where each state ranks among the fabulous 50, so if you thought there was no scorekeeping on this front…

OK, maybe not keeping score, but a certain accreditation agency is keeping an eye on all things relating to preparedness. In this blog post, Jim Kendig (field director for the Life Safety Code® surveyors at The Joint Commission, and a very knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this stuff) provides a really good overview of the Preparedness Index and describes it in terms of how the various pieces can (and do) fit together and provide the foundation for an effective emergency management program. I see no reason why we can’t expect something more of a deep dive in the coming survey cycle and I think you’ll find the information Jim shares to be really helpful.

As a final thought for this week, it is always the case that what constitutes a mass casualty incident varies from organization to organization, but if you want to catch a glimpse of how this gets framed within the context of one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet, the Greater New York Hospital Association developed a Mass Casualty Incident Response Toolkit that you might find worth checking out. There’s a ton of information, tools/forms, and links to more tools/forms, etc., to review in this space, but I encourage you to give the materials a look-see. It does appear that the nature of what we can expect to show up at our collective front doors is shifting and anything that facilitates better positioning to deal with an emergency is worth our time and energies.