Gretchen had been the lab secretary for six months, and she was getting comfortable in the role. From her office she scheduled meetings for the manager and paid bills, but her job took her into the lab proper at least once every day. She liked that her job allowed her to wear skirts and sandals in the hot summer months-she was glad she didn’t have to follow the dress code that was used in the lab.
Stephan was new to the lab courier team, and his training had to occur quickly since he replaced someone who filled weekend slots often. He was shown the routes to drive, but when trained in the lab area, he was only shown where to pick up and drop off specimens.
Dr. Kane had been the lab medical director for many years. One day she was talking to the histology tech and noticed the use of pictogram labels on secondary chemical containers. She had no idea what they were for, and she asked how long the lab had been using them.
Unfortunately, these scenarios are realistic, and they illustrate a problem that can create deep roots in a laboratory, and those roots can lead to a poor safety culture that will be difficult to manage. If you’re in charge of safety in the lab, it is vital to know who needs safety training, how to give that training, and when to provide it.
The who is important. Does your lab host students for clinical rotations? Do research personnel perform tasks in the department? Administrative personnel and even lab leaders who enter the department should also have safety training on record. Don’t expect pathologists to keep up with the latest safety regulations on their own either, they have many other things on their plates. Even if they are under contract and not truly employees, they should be included with certain safety training offerings. Consider biomedical engineering personnel and maintenance workers- some safety training can prevent accidents and exposures for those important team members as well. Fully train couriers and phlebotomists or anyone else who will process specimens in the lab setting. If you’re just starting to figure out safety training in your lab, make a list of all the different people who may enter the area.
Clearly all of these various people will not need the same level of lab safety training. A courier might need to know about dry ice safety, for example, but that information may mean nothing to the secretary. Be sure to customize the training for the different employees as needed. Nothing will turn people off faster than information they don’t need. If there are changes to safety regulations that require new education, be sure to involve laboratory medical staff. For example, the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System in 2016 or this year’s EPA Generator Improvement Regulations both created major changes with lab safety processes. The lab medical director is responsible for oversight of the lab, and not having knowledge about such major changes can hinder that responsibility and expose the lab to both safety and accreditation issues.
Now that you know who to train and what education is needed for each role, it is time to figure out when and how to provide that lab safety training. Some topics require annual training by OSHA and other agencies, and a computer-based module is usually acceptable. That said, other required training must include live interaction, quizzes, return demonstrations and certificates of completion. It can be a complicated task to figure out which is which, and reviewing the requirements from the source agency (OSHA, DOT, EPA, CAP, etc.) will guide you. Next, it becomes important to know your audience- those who will receive the training. What type of education will work best- a live class, computer modules, webinar, interactive round-table sessions- there may be a need for a combination of these styles.
Once you determine your safety training needs and methods, there will be more to consider in order to maintain a steady culture of safety. Conducting regular drills to ensure staff understanding should be added to your calendar. Fire drills, evacuation drills, disaster drills, and hazardous spill drills are just some that can be conducted throughout the year to ensure staff readiness. Consider giving out information on a specific safety topic each month at staff meetings. This reinforcement of the required training will benefit the entire team and the lab safety program.
It takes time and effort to create a solid laboratory safety training program. If you have to start at the beginning, learn your resources and ask for help. If you are taking over a safety program already in place, make sure the on-going training meets regulations, and create a plan to continually raise safety awareness in the laboratory for all whose job may take them into the department. That will create long-lasting value and safety for every member of the 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.