Be careful: Some Y2K tests can backfire

Once you get to the testing phase in addressing year 2000 (Y2K) problems, be careful. Experts tell stories of employers who were trying to check equipment for Y2K problems and found that their tests backfired on them. In one case, a hospital was testing an MRI unit and rolled the date up to Jan. 1, 2000. Once they saw how the machine responded, they tried to set it back to the correct date. It wouldn’t go back.

In another case, a hospital tried to test an entire operating room and ambulatory surgery center by shutting it down on a Friday night, says William McDonough, MPAH, ARM, FASHRM, vice president and national health care risk management practice leader for Johnson & Higgins National Health Group in Boston.

The tests went fine over the weekend, and it opened for business on Monday morning. But then an infection control nurse did a routine check and found lots of bad bugs and mold. The problem? They had shut down the heating and air conditioning system during test, and the normally stable OR temperatures fluctuated.

"They had to close the OR and ambulatory surgery center for nine days, and their CEO was very upset," he says. "Always include the infection control nurse in plans like this. It’s an example of how far reaching the Y2K problem can be."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration also cites an incident in which an employer determined that the Y2K glitch would have caused all the fire sprinklers in the facility to activate. In other situations, the problem could cause fire alarms and fire suppression systems to shut down.