Just Keep Swimming…

By: August 24th, 2016 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is a guest blog by Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, a Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multi-hospital system in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

I don’t watch sports often, but I must confess I enjoy watching the Olympic Games when they come around. This year there was a heated rivalry between swimmer Michael Phelps and South Africa’s Chad le Clos that ended with Phelps defeating le Clos in a 200m butterfly final meet. In one particularly good photograph of the event, the two rivals are side by side. Michael Phelps is staring straight ahead while le Clos is watching Phelps. On social media, the caption on that picture often read, “Winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners.” I don’t know if I agree with that philosophy in general, but it definitely does not apply to laboratory safety.

I was a lab manager for 11 years when I decided to apply for the role of Lab Safety Officer for the hospital system that was my employer. I did not have a strong lab safety background. I managed a lab in which the staff food refrigerator was located near hematology (yes, right in the lab), and many of the staff did not wear lab coats regularly. When our hospital integrated with the larger system, I met the Lab Safety Officer and over time learned more about the importance of lab safety.  When I took over the safety role, my goal was to continue learning about lab safety and to improve the culture in the lab system. I wanted to be a winner. Who would I look to in order to make that happen?

Even though my role as a Lab Safety Officer was full-time (something that is very rare in the field), I knew I would need help to learn more and to know how to make a measureable difference in the safety culture. The first step was learning to look to the many resources available to me.  I met with my internal references- Occupational (Employee) Health, Infection Prevention, Facilities, Environmental Services, and Security. Then I began meeting some external references- the chemical waste handlers, the hood service company, the vapor monitor contractors, and the PPE vendors. All of these people had much they could tell me, and over time they have provided a great deal of lab safety knowledge regarding regulations and best practices. I also became familiar with other external references such as the EPA, OSHA, and the CDC.

Now let’s go back to that Olympic swimming – what does that have to do with safety resources? I have found over the years that because of the myriad regulations and guidelines it is very difficult for a safety professional to stay current without help. As a group, we need to rely on each other as sources of information, or as a support network. Networking is important so that safety professionals can focus on the best practices and successes we are achieving in our labs regarding safety. While it is important to concentrate always on improving our lab safety cultures- to focus on winning- it is also necessary to look at each other, and to learn how to apply those safety best practices in our own labs. If you are focusing on other labs and how they are winning the lab safety Olympics, that doesn’t make you a loser- it makes you smart. Not everyone is able to find the answers they need in their own back yard…or swimming pool.

If you are not part of a lab safety network, I highly recommend becoming a member of one. The Safety Academy group I host every year is a great group of people who help each other out all the time. Try a Linked In® group or maybe a Facebook page on lab safety and ask your questions. Subscribe to my free monthly newsletter and be connected to over 1500 others who are focusing on lab safety across the nation. No matter how you swim the race of lab safety, you don’t have to swim alone, there are other winners out there who can help you win that race in your laboratory.


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