Clear and Calm Measures
Have a plan and get your PPE program ready before the panic sets in.
The news reports during the second week of October were so bizarre, you had to check the channel to make sure it was the news you were watching, and not the SyFy channel or a poorly written horror movie. The reports and images were graphic, from well-known and highly respected medical entities: bloody, soiled Ebola waste items openly piled or bagged waste refused by disposal vendors, inappropriate or no PPE/protective apparel on hand and ready, inadequate training or protocol for treating high-hazard patients, unfamiliarity with the PPE on hand, fatigue, lack of communication, lack of managerial support, and perceived indifference in some cases. Staff exposed, other patients exposed, needless public exposure, public mass air transportation exposures, and a lack of isolation protocols in place (or followed). Media leaks, confusion…. (Tell, me, what seemed to be going well so far?) And stay tuned, because it is just beginning, there is more unexpected, near-panic-laced news to come from private and public companies we never could have imagined.
Let's take a deep breath. As occupational safety professionals, we know how to plan long before the storm clouds gather for any potential problem area, and that skill will serve our facilities well now. Be a proactive, solution-oriented team player for your upper managers at this vulnerable time and leave the "I told you so" attitude at home. In true crisis situations, give solutions, not blame.
Checklist: Make Sure Your Vision PPE Keeps Workplace Hazards in Focus
1. Appropriate for the job/task being done, regular product selection provided?
2. Fits correctly, comes in multiple sizes, you maintain a healthy supply at all times that is accessible to staff on all shifts"
3. Well made, approved for use with other protective apparel/PPE when utilized?
4. Employees are trained on how to properly use, adjust, remove to avoid contamination from "touching" or adjusting when being worn (pushing ill-fitting safety glasses back up onto the face)?
5. Vision PPE does not contribute to trip hazard due to fogging, warping, or sliding while being worn or fall off when employee bends over?
6. Appropriate decon and disposal are available at all times for employees while working?
7. Employees know how to report problems immediately and obtain replacement PPE or follow-up medical treatment/monitoring if needed?
Keeping Your PPE Program on Track
Consider the following before you are called on to provide those solutions, so that you give crystal-clear, obtainable, and manageable plans of action:
- Be proactive about PPE. Focus on what is important and what is needed. Vision protection—are the eyewear, goggles, faceshields, etc. that your workforce is using working correctly? Can you use a combo item and eliminate some of the bulk/risk of contamination? Does your PPE selection create other problems, such as trip hazards or the inability to see or hear?
- Assess your facility's potential exposure risk. Be honest with your evaluation and potential. Do you simply need a social distancing policy or a fully developed infection control and emergency response and waste disposal protocol? It all depends on what your operation does, risk exposures and staffing, location, etc. If you don't know, ask the critical questions now to the right people in charge.
- Staffing issues. Contract services? Temps? University setting? High turnover? Any disabilities? It all matters. Discuss with your workers' comp administrator or other liability manager to make sure you are covering all the hidden areas. Consider the worst-case scenario exposures.
- Determine potential issues you will specifically address and how, making a list to work from. A large-scale medical center/trauma center or emergency room near larger at-risk populations will certainly have different issues than a medical transportation company or a remote urgent care in a small town, or an industrial plant, office building, or international school for gifted children, for example.
- Conduct regular upper manager briefings. (Once a month is not going to work here!) Set up a method to fast and confidentially send out critical information, and assemble key players and a reporting method for multi-location entities. By all means, include your media relations contacts. The danger level to human lives, environment, and corporate bottom line--determine frequency in that order.
- Review your infection control policy and guidelines and update if needed. Have the needed elements in place to handle anything, not a named policy for every evolving threat. Be honest with your staff capability to direct this and, if needed, hire professional training or consultants or contact public or other targeted resources for assistance.
- Is your Safety Committee active? Have you documented its meetings and decisions? Are they achieving what is expected of them or meeting just to kill time? Change them now if they are not producing.
- Training: Is it up to date and appropriate? When is it done? And is it well documented? Are employees’ skills tested? Is the training consistent with the equipment and PPE they are using?
- First aid on site. Do you have real first aid capability or "doc in a box" for minor injuries? Training? Posting of emergency numbers? Do you ensure decontamination takes place after an injury that causes bloodborne pathogens exposure potential? As for your follow-up protocol, have you ever tested any of it?(If you have never tested it, all you have is theory.)
- Review waste disposal issues, unique cleanup needs, and contracts to find any problem areas. What about short-term storage in an emergency? Talk to your maintenance staff about specific concerns, I am betting they have a few that are very real to the corporate calm. Know what the realities are about decontamination and disposal options in emergency situations before dangerously contaminated waste piles up. Read the fine print on those contracts, it matters.
- Have a budget and a slush fund if necessary for emergencies. Keep a true inventory on hand of vision protection, protective apparel, and all of types of PPE you're using, but also have a quick order availability if needed as part of your continuity of operations plan. Do you really have enough on hand for an extended emergency?
- Practice makes perfect . . . or as close as you can achieve realistically. Have practice drills, scenarios, case studies, mentoring of other employees. Use what works including remote cameras if needed to spot check compliance, written checklists, skills testing for new PPE/PPA or procedures that are added. Wall charts/reminders. Labeled bins, easy use sanitizers and disposal methods. Keep it consistent, the workers are already exhausted and stressed enough without constantly adding new guidelines to remember.
- One of the most important items? Implement a competent upper management communication plan for all staff immediately! Training on Media relations is so important and should not be learned "after the fact" of what you did poorly. Any crisis is not the time for there to be a vacuum of leadership presence. Regular, honest communication counts and keeps employees on the right track. When things are not at their best . . . recognize it and set the path to do better with everyone’s help. Be seen (in print and in person)Ask for feedback. And don't forget to thank the employees for their dedication and support. It not only matters, it pays big dividends for years to come.
Getting ahead of a deadly virus such as Ebola or any other threat is exactly like planning prior to a hurricane, earthquake, or any massive disaster. Sadly, we heard what went wrong when this disease arrived in America. So much of the exposure cannot be seen, so our employees must follow procedures and training--as I have said so many times, "train to second nature" so that their correct actions are without thinking about them.
Without a doubt, today's safety profession has the best equipment available on demand, including technical selection assistance; helpful distributors; outstanding online, custom, and printed training resources for any possible scenario; and the best-trained safety professionals. Our employees deserve the very best, and I have no doubt we have the correct tools if we use them in safety as a compassionate service.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.