Susan was getting ready to work in the microbiology lab. She sat down after donning her lab coat, but before she put on gloves, she picked up some reports that were on the counter. As she picked them up, she noticed she got a small paper cut on her finger. Thinking nothing of it, she put her gloves on and went to work.
Chuck opened the door to walk into the back of the main lab. A cardboard box was in the walkway, and Chuck hit it with his toe and fell to his knee. He figured he wasn’t hurt, so he didn’t say anything since filling out paperwork was such a nuisance- and no one saw it happen.
Jean was walking into the hospital during the ice storm to get to work. Shortly after she closed the car door, she slipped and landed on her wrist. It hurt a little, but she figured it would be fine, so she didn’t say anything.
Accidents happen often in the laboratory setting, and many of them go unreported. The first thing that should occur after an injury is first aid. Then the incident needs to be reported. That may mean telling someone in charge in the department- a lead technologist or a manager. That can vary depending on the department and the time of day. Next, the incident should be reported to an institutional Occupational Health department or to a designated authority (such as the emergency Department) if the Occupational Health office is closed. This step is vitally important.
Make sure the details of the incident are recorded accurately, and that any witnesses are identified. Some facilities use an electronic reporting system, and others require a nurse to fill out the forms. Good communication is important here so that a thorough follow-up by the lab safety professional can occur later. The fewer details left out, the better.
We are human, and accidents happen, but the route to a better safety culture in the department is transparency. All injuries at work need to be reported. There is no shame in an injury, and there should be no reprisals, and reporting leads to prevention of injuries. The communication about the event is crucial- the reporting may prevent someone else from being injured in the same way. In some labs there have been serious injuries that occurred because no one reported a previous similar event. That can and should always be avoided. There are other reasons to report injuries as we – those stories at the beginning of the article did not have a happy end – because they were not reported.
After a week, Susan noticed that her little paper cut had become red and swollen. She made an appointment with her physician who prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic didn’t work, and after a serious bout of septicemia, Susan had to have part of her hand amputated to prevent the spread of the rare bacterial infection.
A day after Chuck tripped, Elaine walked into the lab and tripped on the same cardboard box. Elaine fell hard and broke her hip. She needed immediate surgery. She would have retired in another month.
Two weeks after her fall in the parking lot, Jean decided to go to the urgent care since her wrist was still hurting. An x-ray revealed a fracture that would need a surgical repair. Jean went to the Occupational Health office to report the event. Because there was such a delay in reporting, the compensation department decided they could honor the claim, and Jean’s medical follow-up was not covered.
There are many reasons to report an injury at work. The first one is about you- protect your own health and your future- that’s worth a few minutes of paperwork and a short visit to the Occupational Health office. The second reason to report is about everyone else. If something is unsafe in your environment and it has caused an injury, let someone know. That sort of communication and transparency is important to the entire team. Accidents happen, but even when they do, we can respond quickly and communicate so that safety improves after the event. As a lab safety professional, make sure you talk about accident transparency, and make sure it is something practiced by the entire team.
–Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.