After nearly a year of compliance with complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable, COVID-19 protocols, many dental professionals are exhausted. And practice owners are conscientiously taking steps to show their teams compassion and empathy. However, fatigue with wearing mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) doesn’t change the regulations or the potential for serious risks.
Letting your guard down, even when the intention is to accommodate employees’ comfort, can create health risks for all patients and staff as well as liability risks for the practice.
Over this past winter, The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line received calls from practice owners with questions about the risks of serving alcohol at staff parties. These callers were no longer thinking about preserving social distancing or wearing masks when it came to staff gatherings. With good hearts but poor judgement, they just wanted their teams to have a nice, relaxing time.
In fact, the Advice Line recently received a call from a dentist who found out that one of his employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The employee attended a team meeting the day before and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. Unfortunately, the entire team was without PPE during this meeting. In situations without patients present, the team had become lax about PPE compliance. Over time, the young and generally healthy staff had become jaded about wearing PPE — and the dentist had not been consistently enforcing guidelines.
The dentist and TDIC’s Risk Management analyst discussed the workers’ compensation reporting guidelines that are now required. The analyst cautioned the dentist that by not following and enforcing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, OSHA and the CDPH, his conduct could be perceived as lacking regard for the safety of his patients, therefore he could potentially face issues beyond a workers’ compensation claim.
In California, Cal/OSHA regulations make wearing appropriate PPE mandatory. A dental office that does not discipline a staff member for failing to follow infection prevention policies could be viewed by Cal/OSHA as an employer that is not serious about preventing the spread of infection. Noncompliant employees put patients and peers at risk. Their choices should be viewed as disciplinary issues, leading up to and including termination.
Being a compassionate employer means listening to employees and finding safe, practical ways to meet their needs.
As a practice leader, you’re likely fatigued as well! However, your role is to demonstrate best practices, clinical protocols and healthy ways to manage stress.
Despite ongoing education and awareness about PPE requirements, some employees will still fail to comply. In this event:
Every team member should be committed to creating a safe practice environment, which means they make conscientious, consistent efforts to preserve the health of peers, patients and the community even when they feel worn out. Keep your chin up and consult an experienced Risk Management analyst for trusted guidance navigating practice challenges.
TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit of CDA membership. Schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst or call 800.733.0633. Reprinted with permission from the February issue of the CDA Journal.