Charles John Palenik, MS, PhD
An important step to establishing an efficient health and safety program is to identify a team member to serve as a safety coordinator. Anyone in the office could assume this position, but the ultimate responsibility for compliance remains with the employer.
The person selected for this position should have a genuine interest in workplace safety and infection control and should be detailed-oriented, organized, and communicate well orally and in writing. Coordinators must be willing to accept responsibility for supervision. They commonly handle incidents of noncompliance as well as confidential/sensitive employee information.
Once a coordinator has been selected, the practitioner should determine if additional training is needed. Dentists must empower the coordinator by formally recognizing him or her as part of the management team. These duties should not be added to the usually full list of other responsibilities. Doctors must afford some amount of release time so that the duties can be carried out responsibly. Together, the dentist and the safety coordinator can determine the office's compliance needs and then identify and prioritize them. Both must establish reasonably budgeted goals and a flexible timeline.
The safety coordinator should be considered the "lead person" concerning office compliance. These designated employees should serve as the office's "resource" for current and correct health and safety information.
Safety coordinator duties
The safety coordinator has many duties that can be roughly divided into seven areas:
Written materials — Prepare, review, and update compliance policies, plans, and manuals; ensure that current copies of regulatory documents are available.
Training — Provide initial, annual, and "as-needed" health and safety training; provide training to contract employees, such as janitorial service and repair personnel; ensure employee attendance at continuing-education courses; evaluate the quality and effectiveness of training exercises.
Recordkeeping — Record emplo-yee attendance at training sessions and the trainers qualifications; prepare work-related injury/illness reporting forms; maintain OSHA-required employee medical records (exposure incident/accident reports, etc.). Post emergency phone numbers.
Product evaluation — Develop contacts within companies that provide health and safety products and information; discuss new products with the team; provide training for new health and safety materials.
Fire/emergency — Ensure that necessary fire prevention and control equipment are present, identified, and in working order; develop and practice fire and emergency plans; post escape routes and meeting points outside of the office.
Hazardous materials management — Ensure awareness of the office's hazard communication plan, the hazards present, the possible risks, and the processes designed to prevent exposure; ensure that all hazardous materials are properly labeled and that employees are familiar with the labeling system; obtain a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each hazardous material present; develop a system and define a location for MSDS's to ensure that employees can easily find information; display warning signs and posters, as well as step-by-step procedures.
Compliance monitoring — Ensure that employees understand all health and safety policies, plans, and procedures; observe employee compliance; develop compliance checklists that can be used in lieu of direct observation; make certain that an MSDS is present for each hazardous material within the office; prepare regular health and safety reports and use them to improve compliance performance.
Dr. Charles John Palenik is an assistant director of Infection Control Research and Services at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Palenik has authored numerous articles, book chapters and monographs, and is the co-author of the popular Infection Control and Management of Hazardous Materials for the Dental Team. He serves on the Executive Board of OSAP, dentistry's resource for infection control and safety.Questions about this article or any infection control issue may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.