After I gave a lab presentation at this year’s AACC conference in Chicago, a doctor came to me and told me he thought the information I spoke about was very valuable. He said he did not hear about lab safety enough and that more doctors should be aware of the information I was giving. I told him I would do my best.
In my experience, laboratory medical directors tend not to be very interested in the lab’s safety program. I often tell the story about the pathologist I worked with when I first became a safety officer. He sued to walk into the gross room of the Histology lab every morning to greet the staff. He would do this while drinking his cup of morning coffee. When I performed my first safety audit of that Histology department, I found enough food in the cabinets and drawers to fill two plastic grocery bags. I took the bags and plopped them on the medical director’s desk. I told him that this was the culture he engendered in the laboratory with his reactions. Because he was a respected, educated physician, lab staff would follow his lead as it must be acceptable and safe.
That was my first endeavor with creating a “safety champion.” Safety champions are members of your lab safety program who are important leaders and role models for safety. It is a good idea to have at least one champion who is in a leadership position in the laboratory. Have the champion sign a safety declaration for the lab, attend safety meetings, or even lead safety discussions or education during a lab meeting. Work with your champion and educate them about the latest safety trends and the improvements you plan to make. The closer you work with your champion, the more success you will have.
I work with a large pathology group, and I have seen pathologists in the past who come into the lab to go through papers (for example) wearing no PPE and/or wearing open-toed shoes. Today when I encounter such issues, I can go to my safety champion and ask him to have that (potentially) difficult conversation with the offender. In lieu of that, I can discuss with the medical director how to teach his co-workers to respond positively when I or other lab staff coach them about safety.
Safety champions are not limited to one role or position- find them in lab administration and on the bench, even in patient units. Create a team to help you with your safety culture. The more champions you create, the safer you and your staff will be!