Physician Practice

Spring safety in the clinic

Physician Practice Insider, April 21, 2015

This winter has been cold and snowy for many. The arrival of April means, at least psychologically, the fact that spring has sprung. But take a good look around and inventory the safety issues around your facility, because safety experts say the medical clinic or laboratory can actually be a pretty dangerous place when the weather warms up.

Here are the things safety expert say you should keep in mind to help keep your facility safe this spring:

  • Room temperature. As the temperature outside rises, it’s important to make sure the temperature inside stays constant, both for personal comfort and for safety. “You need to make it comfortable for your staff so they will wear [personal protective equipment],” says Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, laboratory safety officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multi-hospital system in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and otherwise known as “Dan, the Lab Safety Man.” If you don’t already have a stash in storage, now is the time to buy lightweight lab coats for your staff that are made with materials designed to be cooler, but with the same protective and spill-proof qualities. Another thing to consider, especially in the lab environment, is that many reagents and chemicals need to be kept at a constant temperature and humidity level to maintain their stability and quality, Scungio says. By changing the temperature of the air inside you risk compromising the safety of those chemicals.
  • Slips and falls. The problem with transitional seasons like spring and fall is that it’s so difficult to count on any consistency. Temperatures might be warm and toasty during the day, melting any snow and ice that may have accumulated. At night, however, temperatures can dip back down into freezing territory, making your entrances and parking lots hazardous. Remember also that Mother Nature often likes to tease. In many areas of the country, it’s not unheard of to get snowstorms into May. For that reason, you should always have a supply of sand and salt nearby, as well as snow shovels so you can keep common areas clear of snow and ice.
  • Propped doors. Sure, it’s a nice day and the sun is shining. The temptation to open the door and let a little of that goodness inside increases as soon as the temperature does. But don’t allow your employees to do it, experts say. In addition to making it difficult to keep inside air temperature and humidity at a consistent level, it’s a security issue. An open door is a breach in your security wall, and invites intruders inside. At night, it becomes more of a safety concern because an intruder could use the darkness as a way to hide themselves from detection.
  • Shoes. Warmer weather brings with it the temptation to break out the flip flops, sandals, and open-toed shoes, which have no place in the healthcare workplace. In addition to opening up toes to hazards from falling equipment and spilled chemicals and body fluids, sandals and flip-flops can lead to tripping hazards, and exposed toes can be a sanitary issue. A better choice is a shoe with better traction such as sneakers that offer comfort while protecting the feet. It’s also a good idea to remind your staff and visitors to watch their step outside when it’s slippery and on wet floors. Some experts suggest “walking like a penguin,” shifting body weight from side to side and taking small steps to help prevent falls.
  • Fans. If they can’t open the door to let some air in, some of your employees might be tempted to turn on a fan to cool things down. Bad move, experts say. If you’re dealing with any kind of work that involves lab slides with cultures or samples on them, using a fan can blow dust and other matter on them and contaminate them, Scungio says. If you need a fan, it’s too hot. Lower the temperature with the HVAC system instead.

This article was originally published on the OSHA Healthcare Advisor blog.

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