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Accidents happen: Now what?

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April 1, 2019

Editor’s note: In this guest column, Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, laboratory safety officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multihospital system in Virginia, and otherwise known as “Dan, the Lab Safety Man,” discusses the important issues that affect your job every day.

Susan was getting ready to work in the microbiology lab. She sat down after donning her lab coat, but before she put on gloves, she picked up some reports that were on the counter. As she picked them up, she noticed she got a small paper cut on her finger. Thinking nothing of it, she put her gloves on and went to work.

Chuck opened the door to walk into the back of the main lab. A cardboard box was in the walkway, and he hit it with his toe and fell to his knee. He figured he wasn’t hurt, so he didn’t say anything since filling out paperwork was such a nuisance—and besides, no one saw it happen.

Jean was arriving for her shift at the hospital during an ice storm. Shortly after she got out of her car, she slipped and landed on her wrist. It hurt a little, but she figured it would be fine, so she didn’t say anything.
Accidents happen often in the laboratory setting, and many of them go unreported. After first aid is administered for an injury, reporting is the next thing that should happen. That may mean telling someone in charge in the department, a supervisor, or a manager, depending on the department and the time of day. Next, the incident needs to be communicated to occupational health (or employee health) or to a nursing supervisor if the occupational health office is closed. This step is vitally important. The sooner the details of the incident are described, the better the follow-up will be for you and for anyone else who may be injured in the same way.

We are human, and accidents happen, but the route to a better safety culture in the department is transparency. All injuries at work need to be reported. There is no shame in an injury, there should be no reprisals, and reporting leads to prevention of further injuries. Communication about the event is crucial. Having an incident occur because no one reported a previous event can and should always be avoided. Another reason to report injuries is that they don’t always end up as minor as they first appear. This is unfortunately the case for the workers at the beginning of the article. Because these workers didn’t report their injuries, severe negative consequences cropped up down the line.
A week after getting her paper cut, Susan noticed the cut had become red and swollen. She made an appointment with her physician, who prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic didn’t work, and after a serious bout of septicemia, Susan had to have part of her hand amputated to prevent the spread of a rare bacterial infection.

A day after Chuck tripped, Elaine walked into the lab and tripped on the same cardboard box. She fell hard and broke her hip, which necessitated immediate surgery. She was set to retire in another month.
Two weeks after her fall in the parking lot, Jean decided to go to urgent care since her wrist was still hurting. An x-ray revealed a fracture that would need a surgical repair. Jean went to the employee health office to report the event, but because so much time had passed since her accident, the compensation department decided they could not honor the claim, forcing Jean to cover her medical follow-up herself.

The best reason to report a work injury is to protect your health and your future. That’s worth a few minutes of paperwork and a short visit to the employee health office. The second best reason to report is to protect everyone else. If something is unsafe in your environment and it has caused an injury, let someone know. Communication and transparency is important to the entire team. Accidents happen in every department, but we can respond quickly and communicate after they occur so that safety improves, rather than worsens.
 




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