Laboratory safety begins with design

Free Access

Laboratory safety is often treated as a specialist area of occupational safety due to the potential harm from the material being handled but also because the laboratories often exist in universities, isolated work environments in many ways.  Kansas State University (KSU) is obviously very proud of its Biosecurity Research Institute that, it claims, has considered all elements of safety in all stages of construction and operation.

A researcher works with materials in a biosafety cabinet in the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University. A biosafety cabinet is a safety enclosure that uses HEPA filters and directional airflow to contain pathogens.

The article that KSU has released on line is a little promotional in tone but there is enough information in it to illustrate the high level of planning that was given to the project.  There may not be much new information for those already involved in laboratory safety but it is a useful example of the need for preparatory work in establishing a safe working environment that also ensures product integrity.

Kevin Jones

New guidelines on aggression in health care

Free Access

WorkSafe Western Australia and the other OHS regulators in Australia have produced a very good, and timely, guideline for the “Prevention and Management of Aggression in Health Services“.

The hazard has existed for many years and hospitals, in particular, are torn between the competing priorities of keeping their staff safe and maintaining  contact with their clients.   Glass screens and wire are effective barriers to violent attacks but it can be argued that such structures encourage aggression by implying that “violence happens here”.

The guidelines, or what the regulators call a “handbook for workplaces” (How does that fit in with the regulatory hierarchy for compliance?), provides good information on the integration of safe design into the health service premises.  But as with most of the safe design principles, as is their nature, they need to be applied from initial planning of a facility and so, therefore, are not as relevant to fitting-out existing facilities.  In health care, it often takes years or decades before upgrades are considered by the boards and safe design is still a new concept to most.

Another appealing element of the guide is that it does not only consider the high customer churn areas such as casualty or emergency.  It is good to see the important but neglected issue of cash handling mentioned even in a small way.

Another positive is the handbook includes a bibliography.  This is terrific for those who want to establish a detailed understanding of the issues and the current research.  For the OHS regulators, it allows them to share the burden of authority.  Just as in writing a blog, by referencing source material the reader understands the knowledge base for the opinions and the (blog) writer gains additional credibility by showing they have formed opinions and advice from the most current sources.

Having praised the bibliography, it is surprising that of all the Claire Mayhew publications and papers mentioned her CCH book “Guide to Managing OHS Risks in the Health Care Industry”, was omitted.

The regulators have often had difficulty determining whether checklists or assessment forms should be included in their guidances.  In Victoria one example of the conflict was in the Manual Handling Code of Practice that included a short and long assessment checklist.  Hardly anyone looked beyond the short version and many thought this undercut the effectiveness of the publication.

The fact is that safety management takes time and business want to spend as little time on safety as possible but still get the best results.  Checklists are an audience favourite and contribute to more popular and widely read guidelines, and broad distribution of the safety message is a major aim.

Interestingly amongst the checklist in this health services aggression publication a staff survey has been included.

(At least) WorkSafe WA has listened to the frustrations of readers who download a PDF version but then have to muck about with, or retype, the checklists.  This handbook is also available as an RTF file for use in word processing.

This is the first OHS publication that has come out from a government regulator with this combination of content, advice and forms.  It is easy to see how this will be attractive to the intended health services sector.

Kevin Jones

Nightclub fires and evacuations

Free Access

Mainstream press around the world reported on the fire in a Russian nightclub over the weekend in which 100 people were killed.  One report says the nightclub owner has been arrested quotes the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying

“All that has happened can only be described as a crime….I think this is absolutely clear….You have noted that a criminal investigation has been launched.  This is not a premeditated crime, but that does not reduce the gravity of the consequences. A huge number of people were killed.”

The fire reportedly started when stage pyrotechnics set fire to the ceiling.

Some readers, particularly in the United States would see distinct similarities with the  February 20 2003 in which 100 people were killed and over 200 injured.  A fire, also started by stage pyrotechnics, occurred in the Station nightclub on Rhode Island.  That whole event was captured on video.  The band’s tour manager who started the pyrotechnics, Daniel Biechele, was charged with 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, pleaded guilty and served 4 years of a 15 year jail sentence.

The nightclub owners did not contest their charges and received similar sentences to Biechele.  Civil penalties added up to around $US175 million.

Given that the Station fire was six years ago, it is hard to understand why any nightclub would even consider using such stage pyrotechnics.

Other nightclub fires should not be forgotten although they received less coverage in the Western media.  Those with which SafetyAtWorkBlog is familiar include the 2002 fires in the Caracas nightclub, La Guajira where 47 people died, mainly from smoke inhalation.  Rumours had it that the nightclub had exceeded its allowable client limit.  Investigations showed that fire exits were not clear and the fire extinguishers were inoperative.

Although there are several incidents going back to the 1970s one that received a huge amount of attention was the December  30 2004 fire in the Republica Cromagnon nightclub in Buenos Aires. (The Wikipedia entry for this incident has a very good list of similar incidents)

The Republica Cromagnon nightclub had several of its doors shut with wire or padlocks.  The nightclub had 4,000 patrons in a premises licensed for 1,100.  Initial reports said that 715 people were injured and over 190 died from a fire that was started by a flare.

The incident generate three days of rioting and street protests of thousands of people, many were relatives of the dead.

In this case, not only were the club’s owners jailed on murder charges but city building inspectors and police officers were charged with manslaughter and corruption.  The inspectors allowed the nightclub to operate with inadequate safety standards.  The police accepted bribes from the owners and did not report the overcrowding or use of flares.

In November 2005, the mayor Buenos Aires, Anibal Ibarra, was suspended from office after the legislature voted to impeach him over issues related to the Republica Cromagnon fire.

Managing safety in nightclubs is a complex business as the industry overlaps many jurisdictional areas from workplace safety to building design to security to emergency response.  As the world moves towards the main season of celebrations with Christmas, New Year and others it is worth considering some of the more useful OHS guidelines for nightclub operation, even though such measures should have been considered well before now.

Going from the violations related to the Rhode Island fire by OSHA it would be expected for a nightclub owner to

  • Remove any highly flammable materials from the interior of the structure
  • Make sure that exit doors are visible at all times
  • have a written emergency action plan
  • have a written fire prevention plan
  • nominate and train staff to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees
  • review fire hazards with employees.

Seattle has a nightclub patron safety handout.

One guide from Virginia specifically references the Station nightclub fire.

The Health and Safety Executive has a guide to assessing risks in nightclubs as well as general OHS advice for the hospitality and leisure industries.

WorkSafe Victoria has a guide on crowd control which may also be useful

Many local jurisdictions have guidelines, or the industry itself has developed guidelines, to assist in the management of nightclub crowds.  SafetyAtWorkBlog urges owners and staff to undertake reviews prior to peak times.

Kevin Jones

Australian stun gun review report

Free Access

Coincidentally after the SafetyAtWorkBlog article on the Braidwood Inquiry, the Queensland government investigation into the use of stun guns by police officers has been leaked to an Australian newspaper a day before the official release.

According to a media story in The Australian on 4 September 2009:

The joint Crime and Misconduct Commission-police review, launched after the June heart-attack death of north Queensland man Antonio Galeano, has ordered an overhaul of police training and operational policy, requiring the stun guns to be used only when there is a “risk of serious injury”.

The review, to be released today and obtained exclusively by The Australian, marks the first time an Australian authority has recognised the possibility the stun guns can injure or kill, especially when fired repeatedly at a person.

Within eight hours of the story above being released, a report, again in The Australian, but by a different writer, says:

“A CMC spokeswoman said the contents of the report were yet to be released but claims the weapons would be banned were untrue.”

The confusing reports may say more about journalism than stun guns but it also indicates the extreme sensitivity about the use of these items by emergency and security officers.

SafetyAtWorkBlog will include a link to the Queensland report once it has been publicly released.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE – Report released

The Queensland report into stun gun use has been released and is now available for download.

Pages from 16225001252029372054 qld taser report cmc

Buenos Aires Nightclub fire – Update

Free Access

According to a Reuters report available on-line on 20 August 2009:

“The former manager of a Buenos Aires nightclub has been sentenced to 20 years in jail over a fire that killed 194 people, the deadliest blaze in Argentine history.

The court’s decision at the end of a year-long trial was met with spontaneous outbursts of violence among relatives of the victims, with police using water cannons to disperse rioters.”

One of the most popular blog articles at SafetyAtWorkBlog over the last month – the Santika fire article – provides a useful contrast to the Buenos Aires prosecution and some practical risk control measures.

Kevin Jones