The lab employee felt faint in the middle of her shift and she sat down quickly on the lab stool. She asked to be taken to the Emergency Department, so her co-worker rolled her down the hallway on the stool. In the hallway, the employee slipped off of the stool and fell to the floor hitting her head.

A lab processor suddenly felt weak and slid to the floor. She told her co-workers she thought her blood sugar was low and she needed some orange juice. A technologist went to the cafeteria to buy a bottle of juice, and they made the processor stay on the floor in the laboratory while she drank it.

A lab employee fell to the floor after standing up and stated he did not feel good. The co-workers in the department were not sure what to do, so they called the manager at home.

I wish I could say that these were made-up stories, but that would not be true. Some details were changed, but for the most part, these incidents happened in real clinical labs as described. If you work with patients every day (like phlebotomy staff, for example), you might be comfortable with what to do when a patient suddenly becomes ill or needs medical attention. In the lab setting, though, this type of scenario is not as common. Direct patient contact and care is not the norm.  These types of incidents can happen, however, and laboratorians need to be prepared to deal with it when it does.

When someone at work does not feel well or suddenly needs medical attention, one thing that needs to be done immediately is to call a medical response team. How that is done (calling a code on the phone, for example) and who responds (nurses, physicians, etc.) will vary from facility to facility. Most healthcare workplaces have a pre-arranged medical response plan for employees and visitors.

The lab should have education about that plan, and employees should know how to respond appropriately when an emergent medical issue occurs inside the department.  If other people are around, have someone attend to the victim and provide first aid (if needed), and have someone else call the response team. Calling the code usually brings medical response personnel from other areas in the building to your location quickly. They will also bring any necessary equipment, wheelchairs or even stretchers if needed.

Learn how to call the response team, know the number to call and the proper terminology to use. A typical process involves telling the operator the facility name or location, the department name and floor, giving a call back number, and waiting for the operator repeat back information to ensure it is correct. Do not hang up until the operator does so first. A response team will usually arrive shortly to help with the situation. If the employee needs to go to the Emergency Department, the team will get them there safely using a wheelchair or a stretcher. Check with your facility and ask how the response process works there.

Let the response team decide how to proceed with treatment. Even if the fallen employee says they are fine and do not want help, do not let them make that decision by themselves. Also, if someone feels faint or falls and then says they don’t want help, ignore that request and call the response team anyway. Let medical experts make the proper decisions about the next steps. You might decide not to call a code and something worse happens to the employee a while later. Maybe they are driving home and they pass out, or maybe they get more severely ill because they didn’t get medical attention right away. No one wants to feel responsible for something like that.

Look at the scenarios that opened this article. What if an employee encountered a deadly head injury because the wrong type of chair was used to move them? What if the employee who thought she had low blood sugar was instead having a stroke? What if the employee that fell was having a heart attack- but no one initiated CPR because they were waiting for the manager’s permission? These real situations could have had much worse outcomes because people failed to act quickly and correctly.

Lab staff are normally trained in first aid for certain types of incidents. If there is a needle stick exposure, there is a very specific protocol to follow. If there is a splash exposure in the face, staff knows how to use the eyewash station. But what if a co-worker’s health status changes suddenly for a reason other than a lab accident? Laboratorians need to be ready for that, too. Make sure you and your staff know what to do in any emergency situation at work. If a fellow employee is in distress, do not hesitate to call a response code and get them help as soon as possible.