Dental workers are exposed to numerous workplace hazards including blood-borne pathogens, chemical agents, ergonomic challenges and noise – to name a few.

Dental employers are mandated to provide a safe work environment that institutes policies and protocols that, when followed, create a culture of safety. However, those protocols are only effective when the dental team stays abreast of the latest in recommendations and provides ongoing training to the rest of the team. The challenge in dentistry occurs when the team is stretched – it takes time to put regulations in place and even more time to research changes, update your policies and re-train staff! Each individual staff member should feel empowered to take a role in implementing safety measures. The last line of defense in safety rests on each individual’s shoulders.

According to OSHA, whose mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and protect the health of America’s workers, there are two principle aspects of a safety first culture; training and record-keeping.

  1. Training – The safety officer can keep up with regulation changes by remaining active in professional organizations such as the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP). OSAP members receive newsletters with updates and safety tips. A common OSHA misstep is to provide general training without site-specific training.
  2. Record Keeping – Effective record-keeping includes documenting annual training, new employee training, monthly safety meetings and annual walk-through checklists.

A safety-first culture is dictated by keeping employees safe, not just jumping through regulatory hoops. As part of the Department of Labor, OSHA and the states that operate OSHA-approved state plans establish guidelines and standards to promote worker safety and health in all settings, including the dental office. There are currently 22 state plans that cover both private sector and government workers. An additional six states have plans that cover only state and local government works. While your state may have authored their own individual plan, you can trust OSHA is actively monitoring each state plan to ensure it is at least as effective as OSHA. No one should learn safety by accident.

Compliant or Complacent?

Real-world scenarios are a helpful tool when reviewing the effectiveness of internal safety protocols. Safety officers, often times a dental assistant, rarely find safety measures as their only job description. In fact, safety can quickly take a back seat to other daily tasks. Review the following scenarios to put your safety program to the test.

  • An OSHA representative does a spot inspection. She asks the front desk team member, who was hired 3 weeks ago, where the OSHA Manual is. She doesn’t know, as she hasn’t been trained yet.
    • Complacent: Team members must be trained within 2 weeks of their hire date and know where the manual is kept.
  • A dental assistant inadvertently receives a needle stick while disposing of a used needle. The assistant washes with soap and water, notifies the doctor and continues her shift.
    • Complacent: A formal protocol that models OSHA’s blood-borne pathogens standard should be in place to handle needle sticks. According to OSHA, one-third of all needle sticks occur during disposal. Preventative safety measures should be in place to prevent this type of injury.
  • Annual trainings take place during scheduled staff meetings on blood-borne pathogens. Safety meetings also occur during regularly scheduled monthly staff meetings.
    • Compliant: Safety meetings and annual blood borne pathogen meetings can occur during a regularly scheduled meeting as long as documentation takes place.
  • Annual OSHA training takes place to review the “big picture” of training, not necessarily site specific safety measures.
    • Complacent: Annual training must include site-specific safety measures, such as identifying where the eye wash station is, where the OSHA manual is kept, fire extinguisher locations, spill-kit material location and more.

Hiring an outside service can take a tremendous burden off the dental practice and their team while making sure the dental practice remains compliant and not complacent. Burkhart Dental Supply provides resources, through the Practice Support Team, to make compliance achievable and less daunting. We have complimentary webinars and checklists many of our dentists find beneficial for topics at team meetings. Burkhart has also collaborated with HPTC Compliance Training Partners, an outside service that provides a wealth of easy-to-use compliance resources and products. Reach out to your Burkhart Account Manager for details.

Dental teams rely on each other every day for support with patients and business systems to keep the practice running effectively…make sure you are able to rely on each other when it really counts!


Written by Kathy Edwards, RDH 

Published in TIPS – January/February, 2019

Category: Practice Consulting

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