In 2016, because of a number of incidents in several national high-containment laboratories, a “Safety Stand Down” was recommended. That term gets use often, but not everyone understands how a safety stand down works. Has your department been in a similar situation? Have you encountered a series of like safety events that created the need for everyone to stop and review?
OSHA’s definition of a safety stand down is “an event for employers to talk directly to employees about safety.” Because of the danger to employees, a more specific definition means that all work stops until the issue is corrected and all affected (or potentially affected) staff has been educated to make sure the issue does not re-occur. However, in the real world, unless someone is in imminent danger, the work of the laboratory must go on for the sake of patient care. Still, a stand down can be important, and there are ways to run one successfully.
Once you have decided there is a need for the stand-down, develop the stand-down education. This can include a set of presentation slides, a hand-out, or talking points to use as the information is delivered. Make sure you stick directly to the topic(s) at hand, and do not include extraneous information, and be certain to include all items that are pertinent to the stand-down subject.
The next step is deciding on the stand-down delivery approach. Will you meet with staff one-on one, in small groups, or with everyone at the same time? Choose the meeting location(s) and schedule the meetings. Because this is a stand-down and a safety issue that must be dealt with, these steps should occur quickly. If you are facilitating the stand-down but not delivering it personally, be sure to give a short deadline for its completion and mandate that all involved personnel are included. Keep documentation of attendance and subject matter for future reference.
Once the stand-down is completed, gather the documentation of attendance and any other associated information and keep it for your records. This does not end the stand-down, however. Make a plan and a schedule to follow-up on the safety issue. The plan may include daily or weekly checks to ensure new processes are being followed or that staff has understood the information completely.
Conducting a laboratory safety stand-down can seem difficult and time-consuming. It may interrupt the work you planned to do, and it may change your schedule for the next couple of days or weeks. While that may be inconvenient, remember that this course of action was chosen to help prevent harm to employees or patients, and that is what laboratorians are here to do.
When OSHA sees multiple like occurrences at the national level, they call for a stand down. What safety issues have you seen in your lab? Have you seen multiple needle sticks? What about slips, trips, and falls? Cuts from a microtome blade? If you notice a group of similar safety events, it may be time to conduct a safety stand-down. If you deliver the information, provide the education, and document the attendance of all affected staff, you will prevent further injury and continue to raise awareness in the lab of vital safety issues.