Hospitals' Chemical Control Lacking?

Calling their safety culture "poor," Dr. George Byrns details two surveys that identified many shortcomings.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hospitals' safety culture in terms of chemical safety is in poor shape, Dr. George Byrns, MPH, Ph.D., CIH, professor of environmental health and health sciences at Illinois State University, told an audience at AIHce 2012 on June 20. After conducting surveys at two hospitals in 2011 with help from a graduate student, Byrns found serious deficiencies in chemical safety at both. These surveys followed one by another student in 2009 that also found shortcomings, Byrns said.

"We're looking at our employees as if they're disposable," he warned. He said hospital management expects employees to keep themselves safe, which he called "a very inappropriate" approach.

The 2011 survey of nine hospital departments found major deficiencies. The engineering departments used 248 chemicals of concern, but only 114 of those chemicals were in the inventory and only 133 of them had MSDSs on file, he said. In the housekeeping departments, there were 101 chemicals used, with 76 of them in inventory and 65 of them having MSDSs on file. More than half of the chemicals in all departments surveyed were not in inventory and lacked MSDSs, Byrns said.

The laboratory departments were scored 54 percent complete, but the engineering departments were only 15.7 percent complete, radiology was 0 percent complete, and the nursing departments were 15.0 percent complete, Byrns said.

One of the hospitals used an online MSDS retrieval system, but only four of 37 employees interviewed said they had used the system at all, he said.

Byrns said the IH community should be more involved in the health care sector. Neither hospital surveyed would meet the older OSHA hazard communication standard, much less the newer HCS standard that conforms to the new GHS system, and staffs at both hospitals had no knowledge of the new standard, he said.

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