A conversation with Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP) SLS, CQA(ASQ) aka “Dan the Lab Safety Man” (DLSM)

Nov. 25, 2019

How did DLSM evolve? While serving as Sentara Healthcare’s Lab Safety Officer (LSO) I worked with Terry Jo Gile, a seasoned clinical laboratory safety consultant  known at the time as “The Safety Lady.” She mentored me for five years. Terry Jo has since retired, however, I carry on her legacy of improving safety savvy in clinical, academic and research laboratories across the world as DLSM.

Tell us about your relationship with Sentara Healthcare. I’ve worked for Sentara, a multi-hospital system in Virginia and North Carolina, for 23 years. I began there as a lab generalist. I eventually managed two different labs before becoming the system LSO over 11 years ago. Today, I oversee the Lab Safety program for 12 hospitals and over 20 labs. I also chair the system Physical Environment committee, a group designed to oversee regulatory matters pertaining to Emergency Management, Hazardous Materials, Life Safety and several others.

What is the most asked question about lab safety? Most are centered around chemical management and hazardous waste handling. These are important areas of concern in the lab, and the regulations affecting them are vast and sometimes complicated. I find that many labs are following dangerous chemical and waste practices; placing staff and the environment in danger. One of my goals is to provide training to make sure labs understand the best safety practices, as well as the laws that regulate safety for chemical handling and hazardous waste management.

What are the most common threats to lab safety? Based on my experience, I would say the overall inattention to the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Personal safety in labs is often taken for granted. In many labs, staff do not wear lab coats, gloves or face protection when it is required. You can follow lab-specific groups on social media and see several posts each week, which include pictures of unsafe lab practices. In fact, the pictures themselves come from inappropriate cell phone use in the lab; another important infection prevention issue. Don’t get me wrong, there are some laboratories where PPE use is enforced and followed, but there are so many more where it is not, and there are a great number of employee injuries or exposures just waiting to happen.

What kind of information can be found on your site? DTLSM, Inc., presents an annual Safety Academy (a virtual training series), provides on-site audits, safety procedure and process reviews, live education sessions and other customized services upon request. It also offers a free monthly lab safety newsletter, Safety Savvy. There are also monthly blog posts, as well as resources that can be used by lab safety professionals such as a chemical incompatibility chart, a Target Organ Poster and links to other lab safety resources. There is also a products page for those who need specific training materials such as CDs or books. For more details, visit http://danthelabsafetyman.com/products

Discuss new areas of lab safety. The face of lab safety has changed dramatically over the past 11 years. OSHA adopted the Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of chemicals, changing how every lab manages their chemicals. The EPA put forth the Generator Improvement Rule in 2018 which affects hazardous waste management. CAP has also recently made changes to its safety standards which affect lab safety practices. The CDC will soon publish an updated version of its guide, Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories. This document provides what are considered “gold-standard” practices for biohazard safety. The WHO and the International Organization for Standardization are both developing updated lab safety standards that will affect risk management and lab safety practices around the world. Lab safety is a constantly changing landscape, especially as technology and regulations evolve.

Is automation affecting lab safety? Some front-end automation has made the lab a safer place for employees. Automated specimen processing lines that centrifuge, remove caps and aliquot specimens without human intervention reduce exposure risks. The same is true for other automation such as slide makers and strainers which operate without staff. On the other hand, modern technology has created some lab safety challenges. Vendor representatives often use cell phones and laptops when diagnosing instrument problems. The use of these items inside and outside the lab presents many infection-control risks. Auditors are increasingly using electronic tablets to do their work. How are these devices properly disinfected? It’s a difficult process to manage, and more issues will arise as technology continues to change.

How is recycling/sustainability affecting lab safety? Recycling in the lab affects safety in a number of areas. Overall waste management is tricky because there are several waste streams (regular trash, regulated medical waste, chemical waste, universal waste, etc.). Adding recycling to the mix can be done, but it takes good staff education and explicit procedures. For example, recycling paper is good, but consideration needs to be given to protected health information and patient privacy. As a result, many paper items in the lab need to be shredded rather than recycled. Recycled chemicals can bring savings to the lab and the environment, but handling the chemicals brings exposure opportunities to lab staff, and maintenance of recycling equipment becomes vital.