Laboratory professionals work with vendor representatives on a regular basis, and it is important to develop a good working relationship with them to ensure continued smooth operations in the department. They provide analyzers, products, equipment, and services. However, lab managers and employees may sometimes need to pay special attention to the actions a representative will take in the department or to some of the information they may provide. They should be experts about their products and processes, but they may not always be well-versed in your lab-specific process and the regulations.
One common safety mistake representatives make has to do with proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Not all vendors provide adequate PPE training, and many of the representatives may not have a laboratory background. Check to make sure vendors wear lab coats and gloves when working in the lab, and offer face protection if they open up instruments for repairs or diagnostics. Some reps bring their own lab coats and use them in different settings where they work. This is common, but it is also a violation of OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard. PPE used in a lab should never be taken out of the department (except as waste). Don’t let your vendor roll up his used lab coat and place it into his work bag for his next stop. Let him know about the regulations and offer him a new disposable coat upon each visit.
Another common issue with lab vendor reps is the use of laptop computers and cellphones in the laboratory. In some cases, they must use their computers to connect to instruments or to the company control center, but they should be decontaminated before removal from the department, especially if they were set on top of a lab counter or analyzer. Can reps use lab phones instead of their cell phones? It’s a worthwhile question, especially if cell phone use is against your lab policy (it should be), and if allowing vendor use of the cell phone will be a detriment to your lab’s safety culture. Again, as with PPE use, this safety knowledge may not be known by the vendor company, and certainly they need education about local policies as well.
Laboratory vendors that manufacture analyzers or that design testing processes know their products inside and out, but their set-up work and lab staff training should be monitored, particularly if the information pertains to local or state regulations. For example, some lab analyzers are put in place using an extension cord for power because the analyzer cord doesn’t reach the outlet. In many locales, the permanent of an extension cord is not permitted. Often a vendor will train staff to incorrectly dispose of bio-hazardous or chemical waste. That can lead to large citations and fines if the mistakes are not caught and corrected. If a new process or analyzer generates a new waste stream, be sure all waste regulations are being followed. For example, if an instrument waste line is tied to a drain, contact your local wastewater treatment center to obtain approval for drain disposal.
Labs need vendors and their representatives, they play a vital role making sure the department can provide quality patient testing and care. Be sure these valuable team members understand your operations, and provide lab safety training in order to prevent injuries or even lab-acquired infections. Ask questions, and communicate with the vendor to ensure that all lab safety procedures are being followed and that safety regulations are not violated. Keeping that eye on safety when dealing with vendors will help to ensure that the important relationships created with them will last.
–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.