Safety coordinators duties go beyond casual organization of safety plans

June 1, 1997
The office safety program is a necessary and integral part of today`s dental practice. This program not only involves infection control, but also management of hazardous materials, radiation safety, and ensuring safety against fire and storms.

Chris Miller, PHD

The office safety program is a necessary and integral part of today`s dental practice. This program not only involves infection control, but also management of hazardous materials, radiation safety, and ensuring safety against fire and storms.

Development of the program requires careful organization. Main-taining its effectiveness requires constant vigilance.

Management of the multifaceted safety program is facilitated if one person in the office can be identified to organize, supervise, and constantly update the program. Such a safety coordinator (or safety officer) must be given sufficient, scheduled time to do the work. The coordinator obviously needs to be paid appropriately for these very important responsibilities.

The safety coordinator must develop a basic understanding of how disease spreads in the office, infection control and other safety procedures, products and equipment used with these procedures, and related local, state, and federal regulations.

Special training may be necessary at the time of appointment to this position. Continuing education is an absolute necessity in order to stay current in these areas.

Staying informed

The premier educational organization in dental-office safety is the Office Safety and Asepsis Procedures Research Foundation (OSAP). One person from every dental office should join this organization by calling (800) 298-6727. The dues are $35 for hygienists or assistants, or $50 for dentists.

Joining OSAP will bring to your office:

- Monthly mailings.

- Special monographs on safety procedures.

- A quarterly report on breaking news and current issues in office safety.

- A list of local seminars on infection control and office safety.

- Identification of companies that sell infection-control products and equipment.

- An impressive list of available resources on office safety.

Joining such an organization is an absolute must in order to keep up-to-date in these times of information explosion.

The coordinator`s duties

The specific duties of a safety coordinator may vary from office to office, but those listed below are very common.

- Continually review infection control, hazardous materials, and other office-safety procedures.

- Prepare, review, and update the office Exposure Control Plan, infection-control procedures manual, hazard communication program, office emergency evacuation plan, and other safety-related documents.

- Develop protocols that provide step-by-step procedures to be followed in practicing office safety.

- Provide initial and updated training to office staff on safety procedures.

- Monitor compliance with office-safety procedures and related regulations.

- Organize and manage procedures for hepatitis B vaccinations of new staff.

- Organize and manage procedures for the medical evaluation of staff exposed to blood or saliva.

- Review circumstances surrounding exposure incidents in attempts to prevent their recurrence.

- Evaluate, select, and maintain the stock of products and equipment needed to accomplish office safety.

- Assure proper maintenance, availability, cleaning, and disposal of personal protective equipment and all other items needed for office safety.

- Perform the spore-testing of office sterilizers and maintain the records.

- Manage the disposal of regulated waste and assure receipt of any waste-disposal documents from any medical-waste handlers used.

- If equipment is sent out for repair, decontaminate it or identify parts that are not decontaminated.

- Organize and maintain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), proper labeling, the inventory list, and proper storage of all hazardous chemicals in the office.

- Assure that fire extinguishers and smoke alarms are maintained.

- Monitor the cords and connections of all electrical equipment in the office.

- Keep exit door and evacuation routes clear and assure other compliance with local fire-safety codes.

- Maintain certification of radiation equipment.

- Make sure copies of appropriate regulatory and policy documents are maintained within the office.

- Prepare and assure availability of appropriate recordkeeping forms.

- Maintain appropriate records.

- Organize lines, as well as types, of communication that will inform or answer questions from patients about office safety.

- Organize and foster a line of communication that will encourage all members of the dental team to discuss office safety and suggest improvements.

- Design visual, written, and verbal mechanisms to constantly remind the entire team about office safety.

Safety is very important to all members of the dental team and to patients as well. Careful management is necessary to maintain an effective office-safety program.

Chris Miller is director of Infection Control Research and Services and professor of oral biology at Indiana University.