In the latest Avengers movie (if you haven’t seen it, beware, there are spoilers ahead), the villain Thanos goes through much trouble to gather all six infinity stones from the far reaches of the galaxy. Once he has them, he snaps his fingers, and half of the people in the universe disappear. While that is not a very nice thing to do, the ability to get something done with a snap of the fingers is very intriguing- especially if that accomplishment could lead to something that improves your lab safety culture. Is that possible? Are there things that can be easily and quickly done that a safety professional can do to help reduce injuries or exposures and improve safety compliance? Of course there are!
One of the easiest safety snaps is a walk-through of the department. If you have developed your “Safety Eyes” enough to see lab safety issues in the department, then the immediate snap fix is taking action to rectify the issue. Many safety issues in the lab are clearly visible, but seeing them is useless if there is no follow-up. If it seems overwhelming, try to pay attention to one thing at a time. On day one, look for PPE issues. Are people wearing the correct shoes? Are their lab coats unbuttoned, or are the sleeves rolled up? What about face protection? Is it used with open specimens and chemicals? Once these issues are seen, make the corrections. On day two, focus on fire safety issues. On day three, look at the physical environment to make sure there are no trip hazards. If you focus on one safety subject each day, you can make quite an impact on safety in just one week. It can be quite powerful.
Another quick snap that can improve a safety culture involves safety drills. Not all drills have to include every staff member and take a long time to complete. Conduct mini drills by asking pointed questions and providing education. Ask one staff member where the spill clean-up kit is located and how to use it. Tell another her computer terminal just caught fire and ask how she would respond. Tell a co-worker you splashed a chemical in your eyes and need to know the correct first aid response. Ask an employee how to respond if a tornado warning were sounded. If staff is unable to answer these quick quizzes or drills, provide them with the information on the spot. That will lead to a better staff knowledge of safety procedures.
A third quick snap is the five minute review. Many lab safety professionals struggle keeping up with the latest safety regulations and incorporating them to maintain up-to-date procedures. Set aside a quick five minutes every day, whether it is in the morning or at the end of the day. Use that time to peruse safety articles or news stories and updates. Use internet alerts or sign up for safety newsletters to get this information and stay in the know about the latest regulatory changes and updates. Take another five minutes and look at one safety policy each day. Updating all of them can be daunting, and it can be accomplished one fast piece at a time. Use the information you learn about updates and apply it each day to maintain a current set of lab safety procedures.
Lastly, use time with staff as a quick snap to raise safety awareness. Make sure you talk about safety at every staff huddle, at meetings, and even at on-on-one interactions. It doesn’t take long to bring up a safety topic or to tell a safety story at each meeting. You can even staff about their perception of the safety culture in conversations, in passing or during an annual evaluation. These quick injections of safety into these staff interactions are a powerful tool to raise safety awareness and to let the staff know where safety stands with departmental priorities.
While it would be fantastic if one snap of the fingers using magical stones could fix all lab safety problems, it’s not very realistic. However, even though the safety culture challenges in some labs seem daunting, if tackled one at a time, bit by bit every day, significant progress can be made. Choose one of the quick snaps above this week, and you will be surprised at the difference that can be made by the end of the week. Gather a team of “Safety Avengers,” and the process will go even faster!
–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.