Strange Observations – Part 27

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

Older mechanical equipment rooms are going to be a problem for many hospitals. Ultimately, you will find an air-handler or an exhaust fan that has its belt guard missing.

Now, I believe OSHA allows a no-belt guard for equipment that is up off of floor by a certain amount… don’t know how much.

Time to replace the belt, eh?

 

Strange Observations – Part 24

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

This picture was taken in a staff lounge on a general med-surge unit. I thought it was strange to see a two-burner stove top section on the counter in the staff lounge.

I asked the staff if they had a risk assessment that assesses the risk of fire to surrounding items, and they said they did not.

I cited them for not maintaining a safe environment for their staff.

Construction Safety at a Hospital

I learned recently that a hospital is being sued by the family of a woman who fell in a construction zone and subsequently died. The 85-year-old woman walked past an empty nurses station, through an unlocked door, and fell into a construction pit inside the facility.

The woman suffered a traumatic brain injury and subdural hematoma from the fall, according to court records. In the three weeks before she died, she could rarely recognize her daughter and suffered nightmares.

According to the lawsuit, the state department of health and social services had inspected the hospital 9 days before the accident and noted in a 58-page report that the center had three doors leading to construction areas that, in violation of state safety codes, were left unlocked.

This is a tragedy and I’m sure everyone involved feels terrible about the incident. I purposely did not identify the hospital because that’s not the point… I’m sure they are beating themselves up over this as well.

But it sure appears it was preventable… especially after the state inspectors came in and told them they needed to lock the doors to the construction area.

Every hospitals claims to have excellent patient safety at the foremost of their efforts. And I believe what they mean when they say patient safety is safety concerning clinical and medical issues. What many hospitals seem to overlook or flat-out ignore is Life Safety, Physical Environment Safety and Construction Safety is patient safety as well.

This story is a reminder that construction business is not business as usual when it happens in a hospital. Nothing is ‘as usual’ in a hospital. That is why the business of healthcare is one of the most regulated industries in America.

The hospital in the story had a warning from the state 9 days before the tragic accident. If they had complied with state’s findings, it is likely this tragedy would never had happened.

I want you to understand when the state agencies, accreditation organizations, and local authorities conduct a survey or an inspection at your facility, they are there to help you from hurting yourselves and your patients and staff from safety violations that you are not aware of. Embrace that process and learn from those surveys and inspections. It likely will keep you from tragic situations like the one described above.

Electrical Safety Program

Q: I work in a psychiatric hospital. One of the therapies used here involves our clients doing their own personal laundry, so we have multiple laundry rooms off the units with residential grade laundry equipment. Our staff supervises the use of the equipment, but the clients operate the appliances themselves. When I arrived here, there was no electrical safety program in place. Is a program required, and how extensive?

A: Yes… every hospital must have a program for electrical safety, but the codes and standards are not real specific on the matter. If you are Joint Commission accredited, you are required by EC.01.01.01, EP 8 to have a written Utility Management program, and EC.02.05.01 requires the hospital to manage the risks associated with the utility systems. Electrical safety is considered part of the Utility Management plan and needs to be addressed in the written plan. Also, EC.02.06.01 requires the hospital to establish and maintain a safe, functional environment. If a surveyor were to observe any unsafe activity involving electrical safety, he/she could cite a finding under any of these standards.

The accreditation organizations expect hospitals to comply with other regulatory agencies, such as OSHA, state regulations and local ordinances. OSHA expects compliance with NFPA 70E on electrical safety which may involve all of your maintenance staff. In addition, section 9.1.2 of the 2012 Life Safety Code requires compliance with NFPA 70 for all issues requiring electrical wiring and equipment. So, there are multiple regulations and standards that require healthcare organizations to have a safe electrical environment, and the accreditation organization requires that to be included in the written form of the Utility Management plan. How specific you want to make your electrical safety program is up to you and the regulations enforced by the other authorities.

Are Lit Candles Permitted in Healthcare?

candles web 2A reader recently asked me if lit candles are prohibited in a healthcare occupancy? I’ve researched this before but apparently I never posted anything about this subject. No, the Life Safety Code does not prohibit lit candles in healthcare occupancies, but it does address the need to maintain an environment that is reasonable safe from fire. Take a look at section 4.1.1 of the 2000 Life Safety Code, which says this:

“The goal of this Code is to provide an environment for the occupants that is reasonably safe from fire and similar emergencies by the following means:

1)      Protection of occupants not intimate with the initial fire development;

2)      Improvement of the survivability of occupants with the initial fire development.”

Section 6.2.1.2 of the same Code says the hazards of contents (which is the relative danger of the start and spread of fire) shall be determined by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) on the basis of the character of the contents and the processes or operations conducted in the building or structure. Furthermore, section 4.6.1.1 says the AHJ shall determine whether the provisions of the LSC are met. This means any one of the many different AHJs that hospitals have to deal with can enforce the lit candle issue as they see fit. While the issue of lit candles are not that common, I have seen accreditation organizations deal with this in different manners.

When I was a surveyor for The Joint Commission, I surveyed a Native American Medical Center in the southwest, and observed the hospital using lit incense as a form of aroma therapy. I called back to the Standards Interpretation Group and asked about it and they said as long as the lit incense was handled correctly in a proper container, they were okay with it. Conversely, I’ve seen lit candles in an office setting which I wrote up as an observation of an unsafe environment.

On a related topic, open flame food warmers such as Sterno and portable cooking appliances using butane gas are considered hazardous by the definition in section 3.3.13.2 of the 2000 LSC which includes heat-producing appliances in the definition of hazardous areas. Section 19.3.2.1 requires hazardous areas to be confined to a room protected with sprinklers, or 1-hour construction; or both if considered new construction. When surveying for the accreditor, I observed many cases where the open flame food warmers were used in rooms and areas that did not qualify as hazardous areas. In at least one situation like that, the Standards Interpretation Group allowed the open flame food warmers if the area was constantly attended by staff and portable fire extinguishers were present. That is an interpretation made by an AHJ, which the LSC allows them to do.

Lit candles used in religious ceremonies in approved candle holders can be considered acceptable by some AHJs if the risk of fire is assessed. A risk assessment can conclude that as long as the hospital staff is present when the candles are lit and the staff has training on the use of portable fire extinguishers, it should be acceptable. But not all AHJs may accept a risk assessment on lit candles, and they would be well within their right to prohibit it.

The candle in the picture above has no business being there. It was located in a physician sleep room inside the hospital and I think there are too many risks to safety in the form of combustibles. Take a look: I see paper plates; plastic packaging; and a can of alcohol-based hand-rub dispenser; and the candle is not necessary. It does not serve a function of therapy and it does not serve a function of spirituality.

Hospitals will have to develop a policy on lit candles if they want to prohibit them, but may expect some push-back from the therapy folks and the religious folks. Perhaps the policy could provide an exception for those purposes, and have the use of lit candles be approved by the Facility Manager or the Safety Officer prior to use.

As always, check with your state and local authorities to determine what regulations they may have on the general use of lit candles.