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Safety precautions ignored when babies visit the lab.

Q The midsize hospital lab where I am an associate pathologist is experiencing a small-scale baby boom since most of our technologists are women of childbearing age. Our dilemma is not scheduling, workload, or staffing, which we have managed easily, but the babies themselves. Infants as young as 14 days old are brought into the lab by their proud moms to be stroked, held, or

fed by one adoring colleague after another. Hand washing never takes place before or after these activities. Many of the techs leave their work areas still gowned in protective outerwear to hold the babies. For these children's well-being, I feel strongly that they should be categorized as unauthorized personnel and not allowed in the laboratory. Unfortunately, I am getting no support. The panel's advice would be greatly appreciated.

A It's hard to believe that your technologists (both the moms and the adoring coworkers) don't recognize the dangers to which they are exposing the children. Safety rules in the laboratory were created for good reasons. Anyone who is not on lab-related business does not belong there. This includes children of all ages as well as pets. In some ways toddlers present more problems than infants because they move quickly and with poor coordination.

If your lab has no written policy prohibiting all unapproved visitors, write one now. Include the consequences of failing to abide by the policy. Regarding all safety and antiinfection measures: When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

Meet with your lab manager about the problem. Put it on the agenda of the weekly supervisors' meeting. To avoid any accusations of curmudgeonliness, cite safety as the key justification for keeping children out. Assign the monitoring of this situation to the laboratory safety committee, reporting to the lab's quality assurance committee. This is guaranteed to get attention. Or take the matter to your hospital's risk management, infectious disease, and/or safety director.

Whomever you approach, you must document your concerns in writing, propose appropriate guidelines, and attach memos of support from knowledgeable sources. Besides protecting the children from danger, you should protect yourself from charges of sloppy supervision if, heaven forbid, anything should happen.

Proud parents need an outlet for showing off their children in the work environment. Consider establishing a safe place for this - making it clear to the staff that visits must be held in moderation (and after hand washing). One panelist reports having corrected the problem this way 20 years ago. Employee lounges were designated (in writing) as the only part of the laboratory in which children under the age of 15 were allowed. It was emphasized to the staff that the point was to protect the children, not the technologists. Another written rule forbade staff members to wear protective outerwear outside the section in which they were unless their duties required it. Cooperation was excellent and has remained so two decades later.

Why not put a bad situation to good use by making it the topic of an in-service education session or series?
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Management Q & A
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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