Jamie, the manager of a large metropolitan hospital lab, has many responsibilities. She must spend most of her time in the office, on the phone, or in meetings. She does find time to come out to speak with the employees, but only for a second to check on things or maybe make a request. During a recent safety audit, Jamie received feedback that several employees were seen working in the lab without using the proper PPE. One tech was working the bench without gloves, one individual had their lab coat on but not buttoned, and one auditor noticed that no one in the lab was wearing face or eye protection. This came as a shock to Jamie, she had never noticed this before. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jamie is a bad manager, it could be that she was so focused on daily operation issues and she failed to notice other problems.
We have all heard the term “nose blind.” It’s when a person is around a bad smell so frequently that they become oblivious to its presence, and this can actually happen with vision as well. Have you ever heard the phrase, “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” or maybe the term “snow blind?” This phenomenon occurs when someone is concentrating so hard on one problem they may miss a more serious safety issue directly in front of them. Lucky for us, we have a tool to help those safety issues stand out. We have our “Safety Eyes!”
Ok, so what exactly are Safety Eyes? Are they some kind of new eye protection device that fit directly on your eyes? Are they indestructible eyes? Not exactly. Safety Eyes is a term used to describe the ability to spot current or potential safety issues more easily. It is the ability to walk into a room and immediately scan the environment for safety issues. This ability doesn’t just magically develop, it takes time and effort to master, and once you have it, you will begin to notice issues without even trying.
There are methods you can use to develop your safety eyes. Like any other sense, it is important to practice using it frequently so that its use becomes second nature to you. Think about this in terms of a wine sommelier. A sommelier may train for several years to acclimate their nose and palate in order to detect various nuances in different types of wine. It is through experience and exposure to many different types of wine that they are able to pick up on the slightest hint of a flavor or scent. This same repeated exposure works for sharpening your Safety Eyes as well. It is probably unlikely that you have a Safety Unicorn in your lab who can pick up on potential safety issues on their first day on the job. To become better at seeing safety issues, perform periodic rounding in the department and look for specific safety issues. Start by covering one specific safety area such as PPE use, waste management or fire safety. Your ability to quickly notice issues in these areas will sharpen, and you will be able to expand your newly honed power to other areas.
By developing your Safety Eyes, you will become more aware of various types of safety issues and where they are most likely to be encountered. It is easy to become “nose blind” to safety issues in a lab where you work every day. Start by simply using a checklist to focus specifically on one new safety area and soon the issues that may have been there all along will be more easily detected. Now that you can see the forest, you can make those important changes which will improve your overall lab safety culture!
-Jason P. Nagy, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM is a Lab Safety Coordinator for Sentara Healthcare, a hospital system with laboratories throughout Virginia and North Carolina. He is an experienced Technical Specialist with a background in biotechnology, molecular biology, clinical labs, and most recently, a focus in laboratory safety.