Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bad People Spill Formaldehyde

OLYMPIA -- Providence St. Peter Hospital has been fined $45,000 by the state Department of Labor and Industries for numerous workplace safety violations related to the cleanup of a chemical spill.
What's wrong with this situation? Let me count the problems:
  1. The fine was reduced by from $107,000 to $49,000. Why? Because the hospital agreed to comply with the law.
    The fine, which initially was tagged at $107,000, was reduced as part of a settlement in which the hospital agreed to provide better training for employees and improve its policy regarding the handling of potentially hazardous materials spills.
  2. Why is exposure to formaldehyde bad?
    Formaldehyde, which is used to preserve tissue and organ samples, can cause breathing difficulties and burning sensations in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Lengthy exposure to formaldehyde can cause serious injury to respiratory passages, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
    The article neglects to mention that formaldehyde also causes cancer. I wonder if the exposed workers know that.

  3. The violations mostly dealt with the lack of adequate equipment, such as respirators, or training for employees wiping up the liquid.

    "We have a policy that, since the spill, we have gone over with a fine-tooth comb and improved considerably," said Deborah Shawver, the hospital's director of public relations. "The problem back last July is that people did not follow the policy."
    So "people did not follow the policy?" Bad people. Lazy people. Hopefully they punished the bad, lazy, incompetant people. The problem here of course is that it takes more than a policy (on paper, stuck in a file drawer, ready to show any OSHA or JCAHO inspectors who come through). Management has to encourage people to follow the policies, workers have to be educated about the hazard and trained to handle it. Appropriate respirators have to be supplied, workers have receive medical examinations in order to wear them and they have to be fit tested annually.

  4. Hmm, seems the bad, lazy incompetent people were managers?
    Hospital housekeepers called their manager, who advised them that they would be able to handle it themselves, said Justin Brooks, a housekeeper with the hospital's Environmental Services department.

    But the housekeepers lacked proper protective equipment or tools and, under hospital regulations at the time, the hospital should have called the fire department or an outside firm, Brooks said.
  5. The employees worked with their union, Service Employees International Union 1199 NW, which represents about 520 workers at the hospital, to file a complaint with the state, said Carter Wright, the union's communications director.
    Think they would have filed a complaint (or even known they had a right to file a complaint) if they hadn't had a union?

    Hope they handle chemotherapy drug spills better than they handle formaldehyde.