The Best Accident Response Plan for Your Lab

Forethought and preplanning, i.e., developing a response plan, can help immensely when crisis hits

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We believe in prevention—identifying and eliminating hazards before employees are hurt. But try as we might, workplace injuries and fatalities still occur. And that is why some forethought and preplanning, i.e., developing a response plan, will help immensely when crisis hits. Many large corporations have adopted the preventive approach and are seeing their injury rates drop precipitously. Want to see your numbers go down? First, develop a solid, proactive approach to protecting your employees from potential hazards in the workplace. Then add a logical, concise accident response plan.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP)1 provides excellent guidance and is a great place to start. We will dip into the most important elements and then offer an outline for your accident response plan.

Hazard recognition, evaluation, and control

As industrial hygienists, we are taught to approach workplace safety using a certain process. It begins with hazard recognition, moves to evaluation of the risks, and ends with eliminating or controlling the hazards. That is the heart of industrial hygiene practice and key to any worthy health and safety program.

With a proactive hazard recognition program, we constantly evaluate our workers’ environments, our employees who actually perform the work, equipment/ materials used in the work processes, and the processes/ practices themselves. Formal job hazard analyses assist significantly with this phase. In the lab, a chemical hygiene plan covers the standard operating procedures that identify and prioritize the hazards present. We then apply a generally accepted hierarchy of controls. First, we try to eliminate the hazards or substitute less-hazardous procedures or materials. Next, engineering controls are evaluated to protect workers from potential dangers. If these do not address all the hazards, or if time is needed to install appropriate controls, then personal protective equipment and administrative controls (worker schedules) are implemented. The elements above condense the workings of a comprehensive prevention plan. For more in-depth information, we suggest turning to OSHA’s IIPP, which greatly expands on each step and provides excellent guidance for implementation.

Accident response

Even with a comprehensive injury and illness prevention program, accidents happen. And they happen at an alarming rate. Every day, more than 12 workers die on the job—over 4,500 a year. And every year, more than 4.1 million workers suffer a serious job-related injury or illness.1 So we need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected and try our best to minimize harm and injury. And this is where our accident response plan will pay big dividends.

Begin by training and educating employees on quick and efficient response. The accident response plan and reporting policy should be written and kept up to date. Make it part of new employee orientation and ensure all employees are familiar with pertinent requirements. If you are starting from scratch, there are many examples of excellent plans available online, e.g., from large public universities and government agencies.2 Use your favorite search engine, download a plan that suits your needs, and tailor it to your facility.

All workers should be able to triage and immediately contact emergency responders if life-threatening injuries are present. If life-threatening injuries have resulted, call 911 and ensure professional emergency responders are mobilized, and then apply basic first aid measures as best you can until the pros arrive. If injuries are not life threatening, stabilize those hurt, apply first aid, and arrange transport to the emergency room or in-house occupational medicine office, if needed. Minor injuries can be attended to using basic first aid. If fire or violence is involved, notify the local fire department and law enforcement as soon as possible. It is extremely important to have all these contact phone numbers available, accessible, and up to date. Be sure to include numbers for after-hours treatment centers.

Accident reporting and investigation

Another important aspect of your accident and injury prevention and response plan deals with reporting and investigation. All incidents should be reported through internal channels, and this should be clearly defined in your written plan. Are accidents/ injuries reported to management through your environmental health and safety office, risk manager, and/or department director? Who will be responsible for tracking, medical follow-up, and investigation?

We encourage reporting of all accidents and injuries occurring at work or in the course of employment. Also, we would recommend consideration for reporting on close calls and accidents prevented, for follow-up and learning purposes. Begin by reporting to the immediate supervisor and/or department head. If an injury requires medical attention, emergency response, or more serious action, it should also be reported to the environmental health and safety or risk manager, and may even require reporting on Form 300, your OSHA 300 log. The point is, you should have a detailed protocol for accident and injury reporting and it should include follow-up investigation actions to determine causes, corrective actions, and prevention.

Regulatory compliance

Laboratories, whether you are research or production, private or governmental, academic or institutional, must meet OSHA standards. Noncompliance can have serious ramifications in terms of financial liability (penalties and fines), institutional reputation, and, in some cases, the ability to continue operations. We recommend staying informed and complying with existing regulations and standards. It is also very important to keep abreast of new or evolving regulations that will impact your operations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires certain employers to prepare and maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log, which is used to classify work-related injuries and illnesses and to note the extent and severity of each case. Specifics for each recordable event include what happened, how it happened, whether medical attention/treatment was needed, whether the employee missed work or was put on restricted duty, and other information. It is not our intention to delve into the OSHA 300 log in this article. However, it will be the subject of a future article as we recognize its importance. If you think you might be subject to these OSHA regulations, research the OSHA website and contact an experienced health and safety professional.

References

1. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs White Paper, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington, D.C. 2012. https://www.osha.gov/dsg/InjuryIllnessPreventionProgramsWhitePaper.html 

2. Accidents and Injuries—Employees, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 2016. http://www.ehs.iastate.edu/occupational/accidents-injuries 

Categories: Lab Health and Safety

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