Is Ebola still scary?

By: February 25th, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

With the word Ebola all but gone from the front pages, and the actual disease seemingly beaten back from our borders, one has to wonder if it’s okay to relax. Have we won the battle against one of the ugliest superbugs known to man?

Safety folks—a skeptical bunch by nature—say nope, now’s not the time to take the silence for granted. Ebola is still lurking out there, and it’s a still a big problem in Africa. As we have learned, all it takes is a plane ride to introduce the virus to healthcare facilities in the U.S.

We took a good look at the issue in the April issue of Briefings on Hospital Safety, and experts had quite a bit to say about what you should be doing to prepare your facility during this lull in Ebola activity. Here’s a taste of what they had to say:

Don’t drop your guard. Be glad it’s quiet, because the alternative (which includes both patients and healthcare workers suffering awful and dramatic deaths) is quite a nightmare scenario. Ebola should be something that is always prepared for. Triage questions that seek to determine an incoming patient’s travel history and symptoms should always be asked. Training sessions that practice proper PPE and response should be required for all staff, no questions asked.

There’s still no sign it’s going airborne. That’s extremely good news, especially considering a large part of the media hysteria surrounding Ebola centered on the question of whether the virus could go airborne somehow. The CDC still says no. What does that mean for healthcare workers? They aren’t likely to see a planeload of 250 passengers come in with symptoms of Ebola. It also means PPE and protocols don’t have to change much.

Keep practicing. Now is not the time to relax your protocols, intake procedures, or PPE. Nor is it time to let your supplies of equipment such as protective gowns, goggles, and respirators dwindle or lie dormant. If something requires batteries, check them to make sure they are working and that you have extras. And keep those training sessions going: make sure you are doing drills that challenge your staff, catch them by surprise so they can learn to work under stress while wearing PPE, and most of all, make sure they can learn to work as a team.

Plan for any hazards. You’ve more than likely heard this one many times by now. Your infection control planning as such shouldn’t focus on Ebola; rather, you should be focusing on the hardships your facility will face in an outbreak of any infectious disease. For instance, how will you protect your staff? How will you change the flow of patients into the hospital to ensure as few people as possible will be exposed? Is your media relations crew ready to handle the onslaught of misinformation that is likely to come out of the situation?

Mexico City hospital explosion highlights risks

By: February 10th, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

Hospitals worldwide got a wake-up call about dealing with potentially explosive and flammable substances January 29 when a tanker truck that was unloading gas at a Mexico City children’s hospital exploded, reducing the facility to rubble and killing at least three people and wounded dozens.

The truck had been filling kitchen gas tanks at the hospital, reports said, and the explosion occurred as about 110 people in the Hospital Materno Infantil Cuajimalpa were being evacuated after a leak was discovered.

Shortly after the explosion, U.S. safety agencies, including the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) started sending out alerts, telling hospitals stateside that they should review their safety protocols, procedures for storing and transporting flammable and explosive substances, and making sure their employees were up to date on the latest training.

“You can never be too careful with the delivery of flammable gases,” says Marge McFarlane, PhD, CHSP, CHFM, HEM, MEP, CHEP, principal of Superior Performance, LLC, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “It’s a conscious acceptance of familiar risk, as people forget that it’s bad stuff. They probably receive deliveries 500 times without incident.”

We’d like to know – with the events that unfolded in Mexico City, will you be changing your protocols or doing anything to change the way hazardous substances are handled?

Feel free to drop me a line any time at jpalmer@hcpro.com.

GHS preparations and the most dangerous employees

By: February 3rd, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

As we here in the Great White North known as Boston deal with a seemingly endless series of snowstorms and Patriots-palooza, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the next few months of newsletter articles.

As you probably know, June 1 of this year marks the OSHA deadline for adhering to the new GHS system of labeling hazardous chemicals in your facility. By then, it is expected that not only have you taught your employees to recognize the new Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on chemical containers but manufacturers will also be required to start providing the new labels with their products. The idea is to provide a seamless transition to a new labeling system that will be more universally known and make it easier for workers to know what they are working with and to obtain first aid information.

We all know it’s not that easy. I‘d like to know if you are having any problems transitioning to the new system. Are your employees trained, and are you noticing the new labels coming into your facilities with new stockpiles of chemicals. What hardships, if any, is this new labeling system causing you and how are you getting your employees ready?

Next, I’m compiling a list of the Top Most Dangerous Employees in the Healthcare Facility, and tips on how to deal with them. We’ve all seen them: the person who isn’t a team player, the one who thinks they know it all, and the one who doesn’t know they’re being dangerous.

I’d like to know who are the dangerous people dealt with in your careers, and short of firing them, how do you change or deal with them? Part of training is being able to work with your employees and helping them become safer at their jobs. I’d like to hear about your tips and techniques.

As always, feel free to drop me a line at jpalmer@hpro.com.

After Boston, is it time to rethink healthcare security?

By: January 23rd, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

I’m no healthcare security expert; I just write about it. So, someday, someone is going to have to explain to me how this stuff works.

Why is it that in this day of heightened security, it seems to be more difficult for me to get an appointment with my primary care doctor than it is for me to walk into a hospital with a gun, ask for a doctor by name, and then be able to walk into an exam room with him for a one-on-one meeting and shoot him?

The ease with which something like that can occur became startling clear to me earlier this week in my own city of Boston, when a man walked into Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and shot dead a cardiologist before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.

Apparently the man was not happy with treatment that his mom had gotten at the hospital some time ago. Apparently, she had died despite the best efforts of doctors. This happens every day: it’s not lost on you as a healthcare professional that you can’t save everyone.

I was listening to the news on the radio on the way into work the morning after and the anchor asked the head of a Boston hospital association about metal detectors in hospitals.

“Do hospitals across the nation use metal detectors, and should Boston follow suit?” he asked.

I listened to the man say that no, no other hospitals across the nation use them, and Boston hospitals are looked at by others as a model.

That’s baloney. I can point you to hospital security experts in my source list in major metropolitan cities (Detroit is one of them) who have told me that metal detectors are a major step in the process of admitting patients and visitors, and making sure they don’t have weapons on them.

So I ask you – what’s your opinion? Is it time for a major overhaul of hospital security? Is it time to lay off the idea that hospitals shouldn’t have the feel of a fortress and start doing a better job protecting our healthcare workers?

I have to believe their lives are just as important as the patients’  lives.

Guest blog: Looking for a sign

By: January 20th, 2015 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.

As I was getting ready to head to New York City for a quick vacation, I was at the train platform wondering if I was in the right place. There were no clear signs. There wasn’t anybody around to answer questions. When the first train came in, it was a commuter train, not the long distance one I needed to be on. When the second went by, it was on track 3, on the other side of the tracks next to where I was standing. By the time the third (and correct) train arrived, I was a nervous wreck. While I admit part of that has to do simply with my personality, I believe much of the anxiety could have been resolved with proper signage.

That applies to the laboratory as well. Not only is it anxiety-reducing, but certain signage for laboratory safety is required. We know the CAP requires signage for chemical labels, signs indicating the location of eyewash stations, and explicit instructions for spill clean-up and emergency treatment of employees should an accident or exposure occur.  This specific safety information is meant to be clearly posted in the laboratory to circumvent any confusion, especially during a safety incident. Imagine being a new employee and having to lead a co-worker to an emergency eyewash station. Or worse- imagine you were splashed in the eyes with formaldehyde and your co-worker does not know what steps to take to help you. That is a bad time to be confused or unclear. Safety training to handle such occurrences is important, but instructions and signage will help in an emergency as well.

There are other lab safety signs that should be considered. Laboratories use chemical and biohazard spill kits with supplies to help clean up in the event of a spill. Don’t assume all staff knows where these spill supplies are kept. Post large signs designating the locations of each of the types of spill kits you may have in your lab.

When it comes to personalities, it is generally accepted that laboratory technologists prefer clear instructions and direction. Labs tend to write and utilize more policies and procedures than most other hospital departments. If you are a lab safety professional, you have policies and procedures you are managing, but don’t forget to manage the other communication pieces of lab safety. Keep your lab free from confusion during every day work, and especially during times of crisis.

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