LAB SAFETY

When Your Lab Has to Work through a Weather Emergency

By Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ)  bio

I read a written Laboratory Emergency Management Plan, and at the end of the document there was a short section called “Planning for Home and Family Safety.” The procedure mentioned making emergency plans with family and friends and making arrangements for any children, other family members, or pets. As a laboratory employee, making such plans needs to be done well in advance of any disaster situation. If you are responsible for laboratory safety, it is time to educate staff to begin that planning process.

In many hospitals and laboratories, most lab employees are considered essential. That means that they must report to work in any disaster situation, including weather emergencies. Does that seem fair? Maybe not, but laboratory personnel play a vital healthcare role, and they do need to understand that. The care provided by the laboratory does not and must not stop, especially in the face of a disaster. Most people expect their local emergency responders, even hospitals, to be functioning when an area-wide crisis occurs. Local communities expect these services to continue as well, and if lab staff is not prepared to be a part of that team providing care, they may need to reconsider their career path.

Most hospitals or clinics do not provide childcare nor pet care in the face of emergency management events. That can be difficult and emotionally draining: employees are expected to be at work, but they have loved ones or pets at home that need care as well. That is why making a plan with friends or family well in advance of such events can be important. Have a plan for how you will manage that needed care in your household. There are many complications, legal and otherwise, that prevent hospitals from providing care for families and pets. It’s a logistical nightmare, and most sites do not have adequate space nor staff to provide such services.

If a known disaster event is approaching, like a hurricane or snowstorm, having preparations for employees and their loved ones already made will make it easier to get through the potentially trying days ahead. Staff should talk to lab leadership about expectations and make personal arrangements as well. If employees suspect they will be at the work place for several days, advise them to bring extra bedding, clothing, medications, and even items to keep them occupied during downtimes like books or games.

It can be difficult to find solutions to problems regarding family or pet care. During major weather events, there are local shelters that may house both children and pets (although an adult will need to be designated to be with your children). The solution might even be a friend or relative. Some emergency shelters are not equipped to handle pets, so be aware that many veterinarian offices offer pet sheltering during storms also. Nobody wants to leave loved ones behind in an emergency situation in order to go to work, but it could be much worse if no plan is in place to protect them while the employee is away from home. Ask employees to do themselves and their families a favor, and talk about plans today for that future disaster event which may have them at work for an extended time.


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