Archive for: March, 2014

Chemical hazards are everywhere – take stock!

By: March 28th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

I’ve been trying to write more fun “Top Ten”-type stories for my readers of Medical Environment Update: tip-filled guide sheets and checklists that are constructed from snippets of experiences my experts have and can pass down to younger generations. One of the most eye-opening (and frightening) to me has been my upcoming story “Top Chemicals in your Clinic You Don’t Know are Hazardous” that will appear in the May issue.

Among some of the hazardous chemicals found in medical clinics includes hand sanitizer, which is a double-edged sword. It helps control the spread of infection but contains alcohol that can catch fire – a girl in an Oregon hospital almost burned to death last year in a freak accident that involved hand sanitizer, olive oil, and static electricity when she tried to playfully shock her dad at her bedside.

Also included in my list includes formaldehyde, used to preserve tissue samples – not surprising that it can cause cancer, but didn’t my high school science teacher think it was OK to soak dead frogs in it and then allow teenagers to dissect them?

Some clinics still have old stocks of ether, a compound that used to be used as an anesthetic and if left to harden and crystallize, can be as deadly explosive as dynamite. Less sinister things such as Windex, bleach, and other cleaning supplies that you and I use every day are also on the list of things considered hazardous.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that you work around potentially hazardous chemicals. But when is the last time you took a look around and took stock of what chemicals you have and where they are stored? My guess – and the bet of many experts who do mock OSHA surveys for a living – is that there are all sorts of chemicals lurking around your facility, some stored in cabinets above eye level, perhaps with loose caps that will cause a spill into someone’s eyes by accident.

And while we are on the subject of accidents – do you know where the updated SDS sheets are for those chemicals? If you have an accident, you can bet OSHA will ask you where they are when they inspect your clinic and make sure you are up to date on your hazard communication standards.

It’s springtime – the perfect time to do some spring cleaning and take inventory of your chemicals.


Safety tips to warm the soul (Soon, I hope!)

By: March 25th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

As we in Boston, and a good portion of the U.S. for that matter, endure another deep freeze, and get ready for another monster snowstorm, thoughts of warm weather are keeping most of us hanging on. It doesn’t help me that I just got back from a weekend in Tampa, Fla. to see my mother – where temperatures are hovering around 75. Stepping off the airplane to 20 degrees was not a very nice welcome home present.

Still, we’ve passed the meteorological first day of spring, and that means warm weather for the rest of us is right around the corner. It’s not too late to start thinking about what you can do now to prepare your facility for warmer weather. In fact, I’ve been talking to safety experts for our upcoming springtime newsletter stories and they’ve given me a few tips to help your facility keep safe as the weather warms up.

Flooding – By now, we’re hoping that snow is a distant memory. But most of the country received a record amount of snowfall this year, and last year many places weren’t clear of snow piles until June. In addition, spring is generally a time when many places can expect a lot of rain. For that reason, the danger of flooding, especially in low- lying areas and how to mitigate that danger is something hospitals should be thinking about. Make sure to take a look at the outside of your facility, and assess the damage that could occur from your surroundings. This is the time to make sure your storm drains are clear of any debris, and also the gutters on the roof of your facility.

Black Ice – Again, while we’re all in the spring and summer frame of mind, it’s important to remember that some areas of the country will still get cold at night. Because of this, any puddles from those spring showers or meltwater from those leftover snow piles will freeze at night and become an icy slipping hazard, especially on outdoor walkways and parking lots. It’s not time to put the sand and salt away just yet. Make sure your facilities crew are monitoring the temperatures, patrolling the outside areas, and putting down ice melt where needed.

Trim your shrubs – Warmer temperatures are always a welcome sign of spring and summer, and thriving shrubs and flowers are something we all look forward – especially intruders that take advantage of shrubbery to hide. While hospitals and clinics don’t generally worry about burglars hiding in the shadows waiting to sneak inside, overgrown shrubs can pose a security hazard when they block the view of perimeter cameras. And all it takes is one good windstorm to knock down dead tree limbs and branches – right onto people, cars, and power lines.

Increase outdoor patrols – Warm weather invites everyone outdoors, and that means more people lingering around outside. As a direct correlation, property crimes increase as well as assaults and other personal crimes. It’s time to make your security force more of a presence as well. Warmer weather also brings with it an increase in vehicle break-ins in parking lots, so it’s a good time to remind staff members and patients to be vigilant and lock their vehicles, especially at night.

Hang in there! We’ll get there for sure.

How do you get employees to take OSHA seriously?

By: March 13th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

Hi folks –

As I get geared up to start working on the May issue of Medical Environment Update (as the thermometer registers a whopping 21 degrees), I could use your help on a story I am working on.

As I have talked to safety professionals in clinics across the nation, one of the most prevalent complaints I get is that they have a hard time getting employees to take OSHA seriously. While an inspection is always a possibility, many clinic safety folks say a lack of inspections and fines are the only real threat of discipline, and it fosters a sense of non-compliance among employees.

This is apparently a big problem in some of the more rural areas, or in clinics run by “old timers” who don’t really want to change their old ways of doing things.

We’d like to do a story that takes a look at some of the best ways to get your employees to take OSHA seriously. Is it is problem in your neck of the woods? What do you do to offer some incentive for your employees to clean up their act?  Perhaps you have a war story or two to share.

Please send me a message at with your comments and a way to in contact with you. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks and stay warm!

John Palmer

Managing Editor, Safety

So you think healthcare work is unsafe? This is what they USED to do.

By: March 11th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

I had the pleasure of working with some of the healthcare safety industry’s longtime experts last week to help me write a fun story for the April edition of Medical Environment Update.

It’s hard to think of a time when healthcare workers worked in a more dangerous environment – but as early as 20 years ago, some of what we consider the most basic and most common-sense safety procedures never existed.

“We just weren’t aware of our hazards like we are now,” said Linda Gylland, QLS, MLS (ASCP), Lab safety officer for Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D.

Just to give you a taste, there was a time not so long ago when it was standard practice to use glass pipettes to transfer blood, acid, and even semen by mouth when doing laboratory procedures. In addition, glass syringes and re-usable needles that were disinfected and re-sharpened left patients and healthcare workers at risk of devastating infections.

We take for granted things like emergency action plans and personal protective equipment, and also everyday hygiene policies – it was once the norm to smoke and eat your lunch in the laboratory or clinic while you were tending to everyday activities.

My favorite, though, was to listen to safety officer Bruce Cunha talk about ether, a compound that was once used as an anesthetic and can be highly unstable and explosive when allowed to harden and crystallize.

“We’ve had some guys call me up and say they found these cans of ether, what do we do? Walk away slowly,” he said. “If it crystallizes, all you have to do unscrew a cap and it is like nitroglycerine. It’s pressure sensitive and boy it will do some damage.”

Happy Patient Safety Awareness Week!

By: March 5th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

The National Patient Safety Foundation has named the week of March 2-8 National Patient Safety Awareness Week.

This year’s theme is “Navigate Your Health…Safely.” A patient’s health journey often starts with diagnosis, but experts estimate that up to one in every 10 diagnoses is wrong, delayed, or missed completely and that, collectively, diagnostic errors may account for 40,000-80,000 deaths per year in the US.

How can you help reduce those errors? Well, start with keeping yourself and your facility safe and clean. You might want to check out a recent study that just came out showing that stethoscopes used during physical exams can carry as many germs as a physician’s hand and lead to outbreaks of MRSA and other infections.

Seriously, when’s the last time you cleaned your stethoscope? I used to work as an EMT in the back of an ambulance, and I am thankful one of the requirements every morning was to wipe down our scopes with a disinfecting wipe.

Next, reduce those slips, trips, and falls. The winter’s not over yet. Shovel your sidewalks and entryways, sand down icy areas, and make sure your workers and patients are wearing the proper non-slip footwear.

Be safe out there. We are all trying to keep our patients safe – but it starts with you!

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