OSHA Offers Best Practices for First Receivers

OSHA yesterday released information to help hospitals safeguard their own employees as they care for patients injured in a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or radiological materials.

Entitled "OSHA Best Practices for Hospital-Based First Receivers of Victims from Mass Casualty Incidents Involving the Release of Hazardous Substances," the document is available on OSHA's Web site, www.osha.gov. It offers useful information to help hospitals create emergency plans based on worst-case scenarios.

The document focuses on suggestions for appropriate training and suitable personal protective equipment for healthcare employees who may be exposed to hazardous substances when they treat victims of mass casualties. The document includes appendices with practical examples of decontamination procedures and medical monitoring for first receivers who respond to a mass casualty incident.

"Drawn from excellent emergency plans developed by hospitals across the U.S., OSHA's new best practices document will support healthcare facilities in protecting their own personnel while they prepare to receive and treat victims exposed to hazardous substances," OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown called the OSHA document a "tremendous resource" for hospitals that are called upon to care for victims of a mass casualty incident.

"Sharing best practices among our healthcare providers strengthens the ability to effectively provide assistance in such an emergency while safeguarding their own employees," said Brown, who also is the Department of Homeland Security under secretary for emergency preparedness and response.

To develop the guidance, OSHA drew upon the best practices of hospitals of varying sizes and with differing risk levels and conducted an extensive literature search. The agency also placed a draft on its Web site during August 2004 and solicited additional stakeholder input.

"The (American Hospital Association) believes that the guidance will be of great value to hospitals as they enhance their emergency management plans to address both the threat of terrorist attacks as well as the unintentional release of toxic substances that periodically occur," said Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. "We especially applaud OSHA for the inclusive and deliberate process that the agency undertook in creating and seeking input and review of the guidance."

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) requires hospitals to develop plans to respond to both natural and manmade emergencies. Depending on their roles, some hospital employees also may be covered by OSHA's hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard. Following the guidance in the document will enable hospitals to fulfill these responsibilities.

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