While you are responsible for OSHA compliance in your dental office, in reality, a lot of that responsibility falls on your employees. They are the ones who encounter workplace hazards most often. To be sure they know how to deal with those hazards, you need to implement OSHA training for your dental assistants and other staff.
Critical OSHA Training for Dental Assistants
OSHA's general rule states—very broadly—that you are required to protect your workers from hazards. While you can have all the policies and procedures in the world, at the end of the day, it will be up to your dental team to follow safety standards. That’s why one of your major responsibilities is training. Training will depend on the hazards specific to your office, but about all offices will need bloodborne pathogens, hazard communication, and ergonomics training.
OSHA standards require initial and annual training on bloodborne pathogens for any workers that will be exposed to blood or OPIM.
This training must cover:
- Information on bloodborne pathogens and diseases
- Methods used to control occupational exposure
- Medical evaluation and post-exposure follow-up procedures
There are no exceptions to this required annual training regardless of the background or education level of the team member. It is required that the training be presented at an appropriate educational level and in a language understood by workers. You are also required to update your exposure plan annually so you should use this annual review to communicate and gain feedback on those changes.
Dental assistants are exposed to toxic and hazardous materials and chemicals daily. OSHA has a Hazard Communication Standard in place that covers four requirements: labeling, safety data sheets, hazard classification and written communication programs, and employee training. Training is required on assignment and whenever a new hazard is introduced. In addition, workers should also have easy access to written hazard information through labels and data sheets.
Training should include:
- Detecting hazardous chemical release
- Health and safety-related risks of the work environment due to chemicals present
- Protective measures
- Written hazard communication protocols
Employers may choose to hold training on individual chemical risks, or they may combine training into risk categories like flammability, corrosion risk, carcinogenicity, or other categories.
While ergonomic training isn’t a requirement under OSHA, it is recommended. Dental assistants work in confined spaces, complete repetitive motion tasks, and bend in awkward positions for hours on end. These are all recipes for musculoskeletal disorders. In fact, up to 96% of dental professionals report MSDs of some type.
To cut down on these workplace industries, OSHA recommends training on the following:
- Principles of ergonomics
- Proper equipment use
- Good work practices and lifting techniques
- Injury risk awareness
- MSD symptom recognition
- Injury reporting
Proper training is critical for staff retention. MSDs are common reasons that hygienists end their careers early, so addressing these hazards isn’t about OSHA compliance. It’s about the overall well-being of your workers. To learn more about ergonomics in the workplace, Spear offers “The Ergonomic Woes of The Dental Professional”, a comprehensive course on managing ergonomics in the dental office.
Setting the Foundation for an OSHA Training Program
Before you can roll out OSHA training for dental assistants, you will need to make sure you have a foundation in place.
Here are a few things that you should do to start right.
- Pick a compliance manager: You need someone in your office to be responsible for everything OSHA, from making sure fact sheets and labels are right, to setting, tracking, and reporting annual required training. This is an area of high responsibility, often falling to the practice manager or clinical supervisor in a healthcare environment.
- Do a hazard audit: You can’t train your team on risks you don’t know about. Doing a complete walkthrough of your office, and reviewing areas for poor lighting, slip hazards and other risks can help you identify problems before they become injuries. However, it can be hard to see the risks that we walk past every day. This is a situation where a third-party consultant could be a major benefit.
- Use inclusive training materials: One thing that OSHA requires for training is that it be done at a level appropriate to the worker. Offering only training in English when it’s not the first language of some of your staff is a common example of training that is not appropriate for the team member. Use online material that at least offers foreign language subtitles to make sure that your workers understand the training they need.
- Consider a consultation: OSHA has a separate program for small businesses that’s entirely voluntary and allows free on-site consultations. This effort is not part of its inspection arm, and results are not typically reported to inspection staff absent an egregious violation. Citations or penalties are not issued from these inspections, either. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you are obligated to correct any hazards pointed out during this inspection. Second, waiting lists are usually long due to high demand and limited resources. A better option may be to bring in a third-party safety consultant. They can make recommendations and suggestions to improve workplace safety without mandating improvements and are available much faster.
- Make safety info visible: Training can only do so much. You are required to have labels and data safety sheets to continuously remind workers of the risks of some hazards, like chemicals or sharps. OSHA also has posters available for sale under its publications list, and there are endless online resources for workplace safety notices and signs.
OSHA training for dental assistants should be specific to the hazards in your office. While all dental assistants will meet bloodborne pathogens and hazardous material, there may be other risks in the workplace that are less obvious. Safety consultations, training, and audits will be critical for protecting workers and staying in compliance.