Conflict Resolution and Prevention

When it comes to the herb cilantro, people either love it or they hate it because it tastes like soap. Conflict is much the same way: either you see it as constructive or destructive. In my case, I used to think cilantro tasted like soap and it would ruin any food it came near. When I became a teenager, my taste buds changed. Now I will eat an entire bunch of cilantro on top of a taco or khao tom. Similarly, I used to feel conflict was a destructive force, and now I sometimes even look forward to a conflict (assuming it’s handled effectively) because it is an essential stage of team development.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) gives you insights into how you prefer to manage conflict, whether that is through:

  • Competing
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Avoiding
  • Accommodating

Knowing what your go to method is for handling conflict allows you to actively increase your skills in the other conflict modes and applying each mode when the situation requires it. Having more than one or two management skills will allow you to respond to different types of conflict effectively and nip unnecessary conflict in the bud.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

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Do you know that we have a comfort zone when we are handling conflicts? The Conflict Management course conducted by ASCP’s Leadership Academy offers an assessment of your conflict management style using the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). This assessment is eye-opening and helped me gain a better appreciation of my management style.

I scored high on “accommodating skills” on the TKI, meaning that when in conflict, I tend to be reasonable and accommodating with others, creating goodwill in the process. This method is particularly helpful for managers who inherit a new department through restructuring and aim to preserve harmony and avoid disruption to the work process. It is also helpful for building social credits to be use in the future for more important tasks that need larger buy-ins. As companies in the healthcare and diagnostic testing sectors evolve and adapt to the new regulatory and fiscal environment, departments within companies will continue to be restructured to ensure efficiency and relevancy. In my current position as a manager, I find these skills to be immensely useful, particularly as I’m recently given oversight responsibilities of new departments. The skills are helpful to ensure seamless transition while continuing to provide patients with unsurpassed diagnostic insights and innovation.

The course also asks us to look at our blind spots. I find that I tend to spend too little time discussing issues in depth and hashing out personal differences. “Collaborating mode” encourages us to work through issues, think outside the box, and to create a win-win solution. I’m learning to set aside time to proactively reach out to others with varying views and to understand their thoughts and evaluate their viabilities and applications. This gives me an opportunity for integrative solutions to merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem and gain commitment from various stakeholders.

The ASCP Leadership program and the TKI gave me important revelations into my conflict management comfort styles and provided insights into my blind spots. While my favorite conflict behaviors are results of both my personal predispositions and the requirements of my work situations, I try to utilize other management styles based on the specifics of the situation. I have no doubt that the leadership program has augmented my management tool box. Now I have different tools at my disposal, whether it be “kill your enemies with kindness” (accommodating), “two heads are better than one” (collaborating), “Leave well enough alone” (avoiding), “might makes right” (competing), or “split the difference” (compromising), to approach future conflicts.

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-Paul Chiou, MPH, SCT (ASCP) CM is a supervisor of Cytology and FISH at Miraca Life Sciences. Paul is a CAP inspector and an active member of the laboratory community having served on various professional committees over the years.

Utilization Management – Where Have We Been and Where Are We Now?

Healthcare organizations are under increasing pressure to increase value. It is well known that a significant portion of laboratory testing is unnecessary. As a result, many organizations have started laboratory utilization management programs (LUMP) to reduce the waste associated with laboratory orders. Each month, I’ll address a series of topics related utilization management.

Conceptually, LUM is not difficult. It is much like any other improvement process such as Deming’s PDSA cycle (Plan Do Study Act) or the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) cycle used by Six-Sigma. In the context of LUM, one must identify opportunities for improvement, design and implement an intervention, and study the results. Most organizations are familiar with these approaches and utilization management is nothing more than directing these improvement methodologies to laboratory testing.

The success of a LUMP depends on the proper organization of the program. Top management support is very important. At my hospital, the LUMP was driven by an initiative called Value Driven Outcomes which was started by the Dean of the Medical School, Vivian Lee.(1) This program affected all parts of the organization – including the lab. We formed a LUM committee that was chaired by the Chair of Internal Medicine and included high-level representatives from Information Technology, Pathology, Finance, and education. The high-level support made it possible to overcome resistance and move quickly. I speak to many clinicians and managers across the country who are involved in LUM. Almost invariably, those who have top-level support are more satisfied with their progress. In contrast, those who approach LUM from the bottom up are less satisfied. They make progress, but the path is more difficult.

Identifying opportunities for improvement is the most challenging part of UM Opportunities are usually identified by comparing performance against a guideline. Unfortunately, the number of tests (~2500) far outnumbers the availability of guidelines (~200).

Benchmarking is alternate approach that can be applied to almost any test. In benchmarking, one compares testing patterns across a number of organizations and looks for outliers(2). The presumption, which is not necessarily true, is that unusual order patterns are associated with unusual order patterns and that tests with unusual order patterns are most likely high-yield targets.

There are several good sources of guidelines. The Choosing Wisely campaign provides a good list of tests that are obsolete. A forthcoming CLSI document on utilization has a chapter that provides a long list of targets. Repeat testing is also a common target and several recent guidelines have been published on testing intervals. (3-5)

Although there remains much to be discovered with respect to guidelines, interventions are fairly static. I haven’t seen much new since the 1990’s. A recent review categorized interventions as education, audit and feedback, system-based, or penalty/reward.(6) All of these seem to work, but there is a lot of variation across studies – even within one intervention. A forthcoming CDC study will add to this literature.

Overall, the bottleneck in LUMPs are finding guidelines and doing the analysis to determine whether an opportunity exists. National organizations such as CLSI do a great service by compiling this information.

That is the overview. Next time, I’ll pick a more specific topic.

 

  1. Kawamoto K, Martin CJ, Williams K, et al. Value Driven Outcomes (VDO): a pragmatic, modular, and extensible software framework for understanding and improving health care costs and outcomes. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 2014:amiajnl-2013-002511.
  1. Signorelli H, Straseski JA, Genzen JR, et al. Benchmarking to Identify Practice Variation in Test Ordering: A Potential Tool for Utilization Management. Laboratory medicine 2015;46:356-64.
  1. Janssens PMW, Wasser G. Managing laboratory test ordering through test frequency filtering. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 2013;51:1207-15.
  1. Orth M, Aufenanger J, Hoffmann G, et al. Recommendations for the frequency of ordering laboratory testing. LaboratoriumsMedizin 2015;38.
  1. Lang T. National Minimum Re‐testing Interval Project: A final report detailing consensus recommendations for minimum re‐testing intervals for use in Clinical Biochemistry. https://www.rcpath.org/asset/BBCD0EB4-E250-4A09-80EC5E7139AB4FB8/. 3013. Accessed: May 30 2017.
  1. Kobewka DM, Ronksley PE, McKay JA, Forster AJ, Van Walraven C. Influence of educational, audit and feedback, system based, and incentive and penalty interventions to reduce laboratory test utilization: A systematic review. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 2015;53:157-83.

 

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-Robert Schmidt, MD, PhD, MBA, MS is a clinical pathologist who specializes in the economic evaluation of medical tests. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Utah where he is Medical Director of the clinical laboratory at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Director of the Center for Effective Medical Testing at ARUP Laboratories.

 

 

 

Safety Success in the Anatomic Pathology Laboratory

The pathologist walked into the histology laboratory every morning to say hello to the staff. As he did so, he drank from his cup of coffee.

The gross room was very small, and the eyewash station was placed on the faucet in the only sink in the room. One foot above the sink were the sharp ends of all of the cutting tools that hung on the wall. That was also the hand washing sink.

The morgue was the only space in the hospital where chemical waste could be stored before being picked up. The waste containers were not dated, and a funnel was left in the opening of one of them.

It can be difficult to oversee safety for a clinical laboratory, but often the people responsible for it have a clinical lab background, so the understanding of the regulations is clear. However, if you are responsible for the anatomic pathology (AP) areas as well, you may need to broaden the scope of your safety learning. Each of the lab safety situations mentioned above are real, and detecting and resolving those and other issues is important. Knowing the regulations for histology, cytology, and the morgue settings is a good place to start. Next, spend some time in those areas, and learn the processes that occur every day. Ask questions and look at procedures.

Bio-safety regulations in the AP lab are no different than for clinical laboratory staff. Many specimens, body parts and cadavers may be handled, and Standard Precautions should be used. That includes the use of gloves, lab coats, and face protection.

Chemical hygiene is also important in the AP lab, and since these areas tend to utilize many more chemicals than others, the management of them can seem daunting. Be sure to keep an updated chemical inventory which designates carcinogens, reproductive toxins and acute toxins. Ensure all staff have access to Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and that they have been trained to properly store chemicals. That means strong acids and bases should be stored near the floor, and they should never be stored together. Other incompatible chemicals should be separated as well. Ensure that proper spill supplies are available, and that staff can clean up various types of chemical spills. Conducting spill drills is a great way to keep staff ready for the real event.

Exposure monitoring should occur depending on what chemicals are used in the area. Managing chemical safety also includes ensuring proper labeling of all chemical containers. Primary container should have current Globally Harmonized System (GHS) compliant labels, and secondary containers also need adequate labeling. Secondary containers may be labeled using a GHS format or NFPA and HMIS conventions may be used.

Chemical or Hazardous waste handling must also be monitored closely in AP areas. If chemical waste is stored in the lab in a Satellite Accumulation Area, the containers should not be dated, and they should be stored at or near the point of waste generation. Central Accumulation Areas are areas where waste is stored before it is removed from the site. In these areas, containers must be dated, and a log should be kept for weekly checks of the areas. Weekly checks include looking for container leaks, dates on containers, and making sure containers remain closed. All chemical waste containers must remain closed unless someone is actively working with them. Never leave an open hazardous waste container open or with a funnel in it while unattended.

Special safety consideration should be given to tissue cutting in the histology area. Microtome and cryostat use presents specific sharps dangers because of the large sharp blades in use. If a blade guard is included with the equipment, train staff to always engage it before placing hands near the blade. Use magnet-tipped implements to remove the blades and rubber-tipped forceps to install new ones. Follow manufacturer guidelines for cryostat decontamination, but avoid using formaldehyde fumes for that purpose.

If laboratory staff is exposed to formaldehyde concentrations greater than 0.1 parts per million in their routine work, there is a safety training program that is required by OSHA. This formaldehyde training needs to be administered at the time of initial job assignment and whenever a new exposure to formaldehyde is introduced into the work area. The training must also be repeated annually.

As a lab safety officer, I learned over time how to work with and coach pathologists for safety. There is no more coffee consumed in the lab. The cramped gross room was remodeled to improve safety. Understanding the issues and reporting them was the key to getting this done. It took a difficult inspection by the EPA to teach me how to properly handle chemical waste. Today the representative from the state is my best reference, and she is willing to come to the labs and help us with waste regulation compliance. If your background is clinical, don’t ignore the special considerations in the anatomic pathology areas. Use your resources to learn what happens there, and understand the regulations so that employees in every area of the lab can work safely.

 

Scungio 1

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.

Everything DiSC Workplace

As part of my work as a leadership coach and consultant, I’ve had the good fortunate to participate in several life- and work-transforming certification programs and courses. Everything DiSC Workplace stands out from the others because of its simple yet transformative power. For me personally it has given me direct insights into how I can adapt my behavior to become more effective with people who behave similar to me and with those who behave differently. Understanding the four different personality types of the Everything DiSC Workplace model allows me to get better results, be more productive as an employee, and it gives insights into my own workplace preferences. As a result of this course, I’ve learned how to tailor my approach to the situation and the people involved. Should I be more direct or soften my language? Should I focus on building rapport or present a lot of data to get my point across? Here at ASCP, Everything DiSC Workplace is one of our fundamental courses that every employee takes.

Everything DiSC Workplace focuses on people’s behavioral patterns and preferences while at work. The model distinguishes between four main styles:

  • D for Dominance
  • i for Influence
  • S for Steadiness
  • C for Conscientiousness

All styles are equally valuable and useful. In fact, all people use all four styles, but everyone has a preference of one or two styles.  Typically speaking, those with a preference for the D style would describe themselves as active and questioning. Those with the i-Style are more active and accepting. The S style relates to people who are accepting but thoughtful, and those with the C Style are thoughtful and questioning.

There are behaviors, motivators, stressors, and priorities associated with each style. Understanding your own preferences and your strengths and growth opportunities is a great foundation for your leadership development.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Everything DiSC Workplace. It was an assessment that I hadn’t done before and I found it to be very accurate in describing my behaviors and attitudes. I have gained quite a few insights about myself, the people I work with, and even the leaders that I report to.

I am a C DiSC style, the conscientious style, the one who likes to take the time to consider all the facts and make an objective decision. Great, right? Well, I don’t always remember to be personable. So, when I look over a project, I can be rather blunt. My input can come across as corrections or criticisms. This is something I need to watch out for as a C. In the past I have tried to explain that there were no bad feelings on my part; no dislike or intention to belittle. Those who were upset by my manner often continued to react in the same way. Now I have learned to never lead with a correction or change, but to stop and consider what someone has done first. If what they have done will work, even if it is not what I would have done, I thank them for taking care of it and doing such a great job. If it won’t work I still thank them first, but I may ask a few leading questions as well. Perhaps we can come up with some improvements together. I seem to have a much better rapport with my coworkers now and they seem to be more willing to add their own suggestions.

As I look around my workplace, I can see the styles that many of my coworkers prefer.

A D-style that I know gets argumentative when I dismiss her ideas without explanation, yet doesn’t allow me time for the full explanation. There have been many disagreements between us. I have learned that if I acknowledge her ideas first and then add a few bullet points, it turns out that we are often actually working towards the same goals.

If I need to sell an idea to everyone, I know an “i” that I can go to. Once she gets excited about it and starts bouncing ideas off everyone, things take off from there. It is an awesome talent. It is also one that doesn’t usually work on me. This is another situation where I have learned to appreciate her ideas first and then, considerately, discuss them in more detail. I want to encourage her spirit but not dampen it if I happen to disagree.

I see the S-styles as the backbone of my lab. As I get all wound up about sudden changes, they take it all in stride. That is my C-style again, wanting to think it through before making the change. The S’s have been through a lot of changes though, and calmly accept most of them. A little appreciation goes a long way with these guys. If they feel compelled to complain about a change, it’s time to listen.

Interestingly, I have also started paying close attention to how my leaders talk to me. I have one who talks to me about big changes, explains the situation, listens to my thoughts, and gives me time to think about it. I don’t necessarily get my way, but when I go into her office ready to fight to prevent a change, I generally come back out supporting it and eager to help. It’s a C thing. Make me feel like I’m a part of what’s happening and I’m fine.

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-Stacey Robinson, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMSHCM,QCYMCM is a graduate of the Clinical Laboratory Science program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and holds a Masters in Science in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. She currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Hematology Exam Committee for ASCP.

 

Leading Lab Safety

The number of medical laboratory scientists is dwindling. Baby Boomers have begun their retirement, and even before that started, there were more job openings than people to fill them. That means more opportunities in the lab world, and in some cases leadership roles are being obtained by less experienced people than in years past. Whether or not one has a long lab history, one aspect of any new leadership position that will be important to grasp is management of the lab safety program.

The first step for a new lab leader is to ensure the existence of a functional laboratory safety program. Do this by looking for specific components of the program, a laboratory safety manual, a safety committee, and lab safety indicators. If these items are in place and functioning as they should, you’re off to a good start.

The laboratory safety manual may be in paper or in an electronic format. It should be separate from the hospital or facility safety manual as there are many lab-specific safety policies and procedures that are required. Maintain document control of these safety policies, ensure they have medical director (or designee) approval, and review these policies in a timely fashion. It is important to remember that while some lab regulatory agencies (like CAP) allow bi-annual policy review, OSHA requires annual reviews. OSHA covers many safety policies in the lab such as the chemical hygiene plan, the exposure control plan and many more.

The laboratory should have a functioning safety committee, no matter the size. If the lab staff is very small, the leader may play a role in the larger hospital or facility safety committee. If the lab is larger, a committee composed of just lab staff is advised. If the hospital or lab is part of a system, the committee should include at least one member from each lab site. The safety committee should meet at least monthly. It is important not to skimp on meetings or cancel them on a regular basis. Let staff know this is a priority for the leadership in the lab. During the meetings provide education, review lab incidents, and raise safety awareness. Train committee members how to perform safety audits, how to develop “safety eyes,” and most especially how to coach each other and their peers in the department.

Another important component of a functioning lab safety program is the use of safety indicators. Much like quality indicators, this safety data can be used to help determine the overall safety culture in the department. A good example indicator includes monitoring the employee exposure and injury rate. By using the laboratory’s OSHA 300 log information, a lab can compare its reportable injury data to national benchmarks. Many safety indicators are typically reactive data (or lagging), but tracking safety meeting attendance can actually serve as a leading indicator for the lab.

Once you’ve assessed the lab’s safety program, the next step a new leader should take is to assess the overall lab safety culture. This can be performed in many ways. One part of performing the assessment is by using your “safety eyes” that was mentioned earlier. Scan the lab visually. What immediate safety issues are seen? What is on the walls of the department? What types of interactions are observed? What is the physical layout? With practice and experience, a leader may be able to do the visual portion of the culture assessment quickly.

Another safety culture indicator tool is a laboratory safety audit. The results of an audit can provide much information about safety practices in the lab such as PPE use, chemical storage, and awareness of fire safety issues. One good model safety audit that can be used is located in the appendix of CLSI’s document Safety in the Clinical Laboratory (GP17-A3). This is a very comprehensive laboratory assessment and it can tell you much about your overall safety culture. As stated before, audit results can be discussed at the lab safety committee meetings, and ideas for improvements can be considered.

Managing the overall lab safety program is a big job, and it is often only one task of many that belongs to a laboratory leader. Change occurs daily in the field of lab medicine, and new leaders are coming aboard. Whether you are new or experienced, however, utilizing these basic first steps will provide a leader with the information needed to identify the safety culture and to understand how the program is operating.

 

Scungio 1

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.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Let me be honest and straightforward: this was not my favorite model when I first learned about it. Until, that is, I went through the certification to become a trainer and I fell head over heels in love, despite it being more complicated and intricate than the other models used and discussed in the Leadership Institute. The MBTI provides a deep understanding of your personality traits, natural skills, and tendencies while highlighting skills you have learned along the way. As an added bonus, this understanding isn’t tied to any life role (work, parent, child, friend, etc.). I, for instance, have a slight preference for extraversion with a lot of introversion tendencies. However, I usually come across as highly extraverted, as I learned to act more extraverted because my sister was very shy growing up and I wanted to balance it out.

The MBTI focuses on your innate personality preference, organized into four dichotomies:

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion (E –I)
  • Sensing vs. Intuition (S – N)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (T – F)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (J – P)

Your preferences in each category, when combined, are your type. For example, if I had a preference for Introversion (I), Sensing (S), Feeling (F), and Perceiving (P), my type would be ISFP. This type gives me insights into how I interact with others, process information, come to conclusions, and approach the outside world. Understanding this will allow me to know my strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others. As a leader, applying that knowledge effectively in different situations and with different people is essential.

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

Yin and Yang

Who would have thought that our personality is made of contradicting elements?

I truly enjoyed the MBTI course, it was an eye opener of who I am and a trip inwards. Knowing who we really are, our talents, comfort zones and blind spots will help us become better leaders.

So now I know and after all these years (on a personal or professional level) that I am an “ENFP,” these four letters mean that I tend to be extraverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving. I do agree with the assessment as it reflects who I am and decided after taking the course to put my Middle Eastern Ego aside and not challenge the blind spots.

ENFPs see new possibilities in people, situations, tasks and projects at hand. We tend to have high energy and flexibility. In my line of work, being the Chief Quality Officer at MedLabs Consultancy Group in Amman-Jordan, I find these personal traits very critical to our success as a company to ensure the highest compliance in implementing quality standards throughout our network of laboratories spanning four countries and exceeding 50 in total. Being a people’s person is a great asset in order to touch the hearts, minds and souls of our staff to sustain these quality standards, being 150% convinced rather than simply following the rules. We are trying to “personalize” Quality and Safety, this can only be accomplished through connecting with each staff member and it requires inspiration, a trait that is “built in” ENFPs.

Looking at the blind spots, I find that we tend to get overexcited about projects, juggling many at the same time and loosing track of priorities in the hope of making a difference. Guilty as charged.

I am learning to take one project at a time, see it through completion and start the next one in the pipeline, this gave me and my colleagues a breather and time to reflect if the road that we are taking is indeed the correct one.

So now I am asking myself, what if I did not have the great opportunity to be part of the ASCP Leadership Program and I have missed out on MBTI? What if I did not realize that I am an ENFP? What if I could not appreciate the blind spots?

The simple answer is: I will be a classical leader in it for the title, with little contributions and not much of a positive effect on those who are around me. My job will be stale, with no spirit and dull, so I guess Yin and Yang actually works.

Soudi

-Nael M. Soudi holds a bachelor degree in Microbiology from State University of New York at Plattsburgh (USA). He completed both his Master Degree in Molecular Biology and a postgraduate program in Cytotechnology at Johns Hopkins University (USA). Mr. Soudi is a certified Practitioner in Health Care Quality (CPHQ) and a certified consultant and inspector with the Healthcare Accreditation Council. He is also certified by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC) and the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) – Cytology. Mr. Soudi is fully licensed by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and the College of American Pathologist (CAP) as a Certified Inspector. He is a frequent presenter at regional and international conferences discussing topics in Cytology, leadership, accreditation and healthcare quality. 

Your Reaction to Safety

The toddler’s father let her hand go so he could pay for their dinner at the busy airport. The little girl quickly wandered away and suddenly found herself at the top of a long escalator that was going down. No one was watching.

Mrs. Anders was walking home as she did every day from the neighborhood pool. She was very hard of hearing, but she was as friendly as she could be. As she waved to you while crossing the street, you see the car speeding toward her at too fast a pace.

You may have encountered a situation similar to one of these, or you may have seen something like it in a suspenseful movie or television program. The scenario is something that can create a reaction in you, a feeling of sudden dread, and the urge to take quick action. That’s a good response, and it could save someone from a serious incident.

But is your reaction the same in the lab where you work?

Lisa processed some CSF samples at the front desk that were delivered from another lab. She later received a call from the sending lab alerting her that the patient was positive for CJD, a prion disease, and the specimens were sent in error. When she went to clean up the processing area and tell the other staff, Lisa saw her co-worker leaning on the counter and using the computer with no PPE.

In the morning, Ken dropped a glass bottle of hydrochloric acid on the lab floor, and it shattered and spilled. He went to get the spill clean-up kit, but before he returned, the pathologist walked into the department wearing open-toed shoes.

Now let’s try something a bit subtler:

Robert is working in the chemistry department and he uncaps the next batch of tubes to be analyzed behind the safety shield on the counter. He places the tubes in the rack and carries the rack over to the analyzer. He’s not wearing any face protection.

Sheila was the supervisor in hematology, and she was walking through the department as Dwayne was on the phone with a service representative about the broken analyzer. The rep asked to speak to Sheila. Dwayne hands her the phone with his gloved hands, Sheila is wearing no PPE.

As a lab safety professional, one of my goals is to help lab staff have that same urgent gut reaction- that feeling that something is wrong and needs immediate correction- in all of those lab scenarios above, particularly the subtle ones. In each of those moments, the risk of danger or infection is very high and needs to be mitigated. All too often, however, these events occur in labs and no one reacts. That’s a safety culture problem.

There are many possible reasons for that typical lack of response. People are busy, the unsafe practices are common, or safety is simply not a priority. Lab injuries and exposures continue to occur across the nation, so the issues need to be addressed, and there are ways to do that successfully.

One method I use in safety training (that I’ve written about before) is the development of “Safety Eyes.” I call that the latent super-power that everyone possesses, but it needs to be taught and honed. When you work in a particular environment every day, it can become difficult to see the safety problems without training and practice. Take pictures of unsafe lab practices or problems and show them to staff. Have them identify the issue. As they practice, they will begin to see issues more often. Take practice safety walks with staff and look for issues. These actions will help everyone’s “Safety Eyes” to develop and become powerful tools in the department.

Of course, just seeing the issue is not enough. The second important piece here is teaching staff to respond when they do spot a problem. That can take some training and empowerment that may be new ideas for many. Teach staff to coach their peers for safety. This behavior will show others that safety is a priority, and over time more and more staff will begin to follow suit.

To produce the reaction you want in your laboratory—the issue is noticed, there is a sudden sense of dread or a gut reaction, and then there is a correction made—takes consistency. The lab safety leader will need to provide education about the regulations. Next, develop the “Safety Eyes” of the staff through pictures and safety walks. Finally, teach them to respond to the problems. As people, we are aware of the immediate danger when we see a toddler at the top of the stairs. The possibility of harm is clear to us. If you can produce that clarity for your staff with lab safety issues, you can get those reactions that can only improve your safety culture, and you can drastically reduce those injuries and exposures.

 

Scungio 1

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.