Feed the Safety Need

Ben was excited to bring the new analyzer into the laboratory until he discovered the manufacturer’s newest security feature. Anytime a user was to log into the analyzer’s computer to diagnose issues or to perform maintenance, a unique numeric passcode would have to be entered, and that code would be sent via text to the app that staff could download on their cellphones. John knew that the use of cell phones in the lab violated the personal electronic device policy.

Emily was proud of the work she had done to design the new outpatient collection draw area. It included a row of collection rooms each with their own computer for order entry. The central area outside the rooms had a phone and printer set up for an efficient workflow. However, every time she performed a site visit she noticed her staff were using cell phones in the patient collection rooms. When she asked why, they told her they often had to make calls to clarify orders, and that talking on the central phone meant discussing patient information in front of people seated in the waiting area.

When a basic need of a human being is not met, conflict is automatically set up in the mind, and humans will deal with that conflict with a workaround or possibly with aggression. Often laboratories and their procedures are designed without considering all of the potential needs of the staff who will work there. Conflict will arise, and policies will not be followed, and you may also wind up with unhappy employees.

When it comes to safety policies and procedures, it is important to educate why they must be followed. It is vital to discuss the possible outcomes of not using safe practices. That may mean exposures to chemicals and biohazards, and it may also mean injuries. It can take time to explain that the use of a smart watch with contaminated gloves can lead to infection and potentially severe illness at work and in the home.

While this understanding is important, it must be coupled with a system of practices that allows staff to easily follow the prescribed safe practices. It must be easy for staff to perform safe acts, there should be no hindrances in their way for that to happen. Otherwise, conflict will occur, and the set policies will not be followed. Staff may know the regulations, they may even understand the potential consequences of not following them, but they will not conform to the policies because of some software glitch or because some vital tool is missing in their environment.

When you notice a lab safety violation, or if a safety incident has occurred, the first thing to look for in the investigation is something in the system that may have caused it. Unless the incident occurred because of a blatant act by the employee, blame should never first be focused on the person. What departmental design flaw exists? What engineering control could have been in place? What PPE should have been readily available? What was the temperature and humidity in the department, etc.?

Upon further discussion with the vender, Ben learned that the manufacturer’s security code system could not be bypassed, but that the app could be downloaded onto an electronic tablet rather than a cell phone. Ben purchased a tablet that could be used in the lab and remain there so as not to create any infection control issues. The tablet was also used for lab safety and quality audits so that pictures of issues could be taken and that results of audits could be entered directly. It became a real time saver, and no cell phones were needed in the laboratory.

Upon review, Emily realized that access to phones in the new outpatient collection area needed to be better. There was no way to even call or help from a collection room should there be an adverse reaction to phlebotomy. Emily was able to acquire portable phones in the short term until she could get permanently-mounted telephones into each of the three blood collection rooms. Staff no longer needed to use cell phones in the biohazardous areas.

Humans have basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. When those needs are not met, some may act in surprising ways to obtain them. The same holds true in the laboratory. There is a need to be safe, there is a need to follow safety regulations and policies, and unsafe behaviors will arise if it cannot be achieved. Feed the safety needs of your employees. Provide a safe working environment with good engineering controls, PPE, and polices that allow for workdays that have no safety conflict.

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.

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