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How serious are you about lab safety?

How serious are you about lab safety? Can you think of one positive thing to come out of the current AIDS crisis? I can. If nothing else, it has made laboratory employees more aware of the need to practice good safety measures.

Our profession is exposed to just about every major work hazard. Besides the physical and electrical hazards common to most workplaces, we have to deal with biohazards, toxic chemicals, carcinogens, radiation, and compressed gases. Considering these dangers, you'd think employees would be overly cautious. But for the most part, the average technologist is blase when it comes to safety. We are all so concerned with our main mission-timely and accurate analysis of patient specimens--that we take certain safety measures for granted until something goes wrong.

We are on guard against the obvious hazards--wet floors, frayed electrical cords, and the like--but tempt fate when it comes to such unseen dangers as infectious specimens or toxic chemicals. How many of us have walked through the lab and observed employees eating, drinking, or smoking, or not using safety equipment when dealing with potential biohazards? How many of us conscientiously fasten seat belts on the way to work yet neglect to put on protective clothing after we arive?

Despite the nonchalance, the clinical laboratory is a relatively safe place to work. Hospitals and labs have a better safety record than most major industries, according to the National Safety Council. Many facilities have shared in this record by establishing good safety measures and monitoring compliance. A few, however, can attribute their safe operations to blind luck.

Our employees will take safety seriously only if we do. As directors, managers, and supervisors, we must follow, encourage, and enforce good safety practices.

The best time to impress upon employees the need for a proper safety approach is when they are new to the lab. Each orientation should review safety procedures and acquaint newcomers with the location and use of safety equipment. Reinforce safety awareness among the rest of the staff through in-services and drills.

The main responsibility for insuring compliance with safety policy and procedures should lie with the laboratory safety committee, ideally composed of a cross section of supervisors, technologists, and aides. It's a good idea to have safety members inspect a lab area other than their own. Obvious hazards can be overlooked in our own areas.

Hold safety inspections regularly and share the results at a group meeting. The chairperson of the safety committee should notify violators and see that they are brought into compliance. Minutes should be taken and held available for inspection.

Good safety measures shouldn't be something we drag out of a closet at inspection time or after an accident has occurred. They should be an integral part of our work environment. If posters and signs hang in work and break areas, employees will eventually read and perhaps absorb the information. Beyond the laboratory itself, we should teach physicians, nurses, and ward staffs the proper techniques for specimen collection, labeling, and handling.

So far, data have shown minimal danger of health care workers contracting AIDS. But much is unknown, and employees may be genuninely concerned about this and other potential work hazards. As managers, we must share the concern and minimize the risk to our employees through education and sound precautions. Most safety practices are just good common sense--treating every specimen as a potential biohazard, carefully disposing of needles, cleaning up spills, etc.

No work area, whether it's a coal mine, factory, or clinical laboratory, will ever be entirely free of hazards. Only through vigilance will the scales continue to tip on the safe side.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1986
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