Will employees self-transport to ED?

Make sure it doesn't happen

The fact that employees exposed to a toxic chemical at a St. Louis plant drove themselves to the emergency department reinforces one of the key lessons learned from the Tokyo sarin gas attack of 1995, says Robert Emery, DrPH, assistant vice president of safety, health, environment and risk management at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Emery is also an associate professor of occupational health at The University of Texas School of Public Health, also in Houston.

In that incident, about 80% of the victims transported themselves to the hospital, which is a surprising fact to many disaster planners who assumed that victims would be transported by ambulance, with hospitals being warned about the patient's condition and decontamination status in advance.

"This event reinforces the notion that self-transport is a serious concern," says Emery. "Controls need to be put into place to keep such victims from contaminating the hospital."

Five steps to avoid contamination

To be sure employees at your workplace don't do this, Emery suggests the following:

  • Develop a hazard communication training plan.
  • Be sure workers are knowledgeable about the chemicals they work with, and know how to access critical safety information contained in material safety data sheets (MSDS).
  • Establish a standard protocol for responding to spills and exposures, including the delivery of MSDS information to health care providers.
  • Create a standard protocol for the receipt and processing of victims, so the risk of hospital contamination is minimized. For example, the removal of outer clothing can remove about 70% of a contaminant.
  • Become familiar with the types of chemicals that are being used in your workplace.

"In many municipalities, the presence and use of particularly toxic or hazardous chemicals must be reported to local emergency planning organizations," says Emery.