As we prepare to say good-bye and good riddance to the year 2020, we hesitatingly welcome 2021. What will the new year bring? Can it be worse than last year? Are we prepared to deal with what else may be coming? Did we learn lessons in 2020 that will help us? These are valid questions for everyone, and they apply equally to lab safety professionals. We dealt with PPE shortages, new and additional testing, staffing shortages, and even the fears felt by our co-workers. Some of these issues persist, but there are ways to deal with them.
Maybe the past year made you feel like you and your staff didn’t have a strong enough grasp of biosafety practices in the workplace. After all, questions came up about the basics. How should specimens be transported? Should we wear gloves when carrying bags of COVID-19 swab specimens down the hallway? Should I wear my shoes home? These were valid questions, and they were asked often as the pandemic progressed. However, they are questions that should be asked by those who work with biohazards in the workplace every day.
One new resource for healthcare professionals concerned about protection from biohazards is the BMBL6. The Biosafety in Microbiology and Biomedical Laboratories document published by the CDC has been the definitive resource for safe laboratory biosafety practices in the United States since it was first published in 1984. The 6th edition has recently been released, and it contains some very helpful upgrades. This outstanding resource now provides information about large-scale biosafety, clinical laboratory biosafety, inactivation of biological pathogens, and laboratory sustainability. A new focus on Risk Assessments is evident throughout the publication as well which can help users identify and mitigate the biohazard risks in their workplace. The BMBL6 is a great tool that can be used to update your safety program and to help keep your staff safe as they continue to work with new pathogens and new testing platforms.
PPE supply shortages still linger for many healthcare facilities, and as the pandemic continues, more purchasing limitations are expected. The CDC already posted guidelines which can help organizations optimize the use of current PPE supplies. Strategies such as prolonged PPE use and disinfection are just some possibilities that can help ( https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/index.html). As we move into the next year, consider purchasing more reusable PPE. Reusable goggles and face shields are offered by many manufacturers. Washable lab coats and gowns can also be purchased, although it may take a while to get the supplies because of high demand. Because of continued shortages, the reprocessing of N95 respirators has become more common using hydrogen peroxides mists or UV lights.
2020 also brought delays in healthcare accreditation audits and inspections as many agencies could not travel and the number of willing inspectors decreased. Some organizations will now offer virtual inspections. As the new year begins, we will have to remember to continue to be ever-ready and to maintain our safety programs to ensure regulations are being followed. Previously unannounced inspections are now scheduled, and safety policies and procedures may be reviewed by the inspectors electronically ahead of the inspection dates. Staying inspection-ready and knowing how to handle new audit styles will be challenges in 2021.
While we might be happy to see this unusual year come to a close, for that sake of safety, we still have to remain vigilant. One lesson learned is that we have to be ready for the unexpected. Our safety programs need to be diverse and able to keep staff safe in many circumstances. If we use the resources and tools available to us, we can work through the next year smoothly and safely.