It used to be that Doctors made Life and Death Decisions. Now Supply Managers do too!

This recent CSR briefing over on the CPO Agenda on when good procurement can be a life and death factor is great food for thought as it points that not Supply Management is more then just sourcing and procuring, it’s also also sustaining and securing — in more ways than one!

Focussing on how the early 2000s saw several incidents where hospital patients inadvertently received excess doses of their drugs that resulted in fatalities, the article pointed out how a poor selection of IMDs (Interactive Medical Devices) that didn’t do anything to prevent common human errors was the reason that a premature baby died after receiving 10 times the required dose of diamorphine and a person lost their life after receiving a dose 24 times too high after a daily dose was miscalculated as hourly when it would have been trivial to code in a dosage check that asked a nurse or doctor are you sure before administering a dose outside of the range. After all, it’s easy to mistype a decimal point and then 13.5 ml becomes 135 ml, or click the hourly instead of daily button if you’re in a rush (and what health-care professional isn’t overworked these days)?

Now, you could say that the real problem was lack of training, as better training could have minimized the possibility of human error, but in each case sourcing was involved. In each case, a wide range of IMD devices were in service in each of the hospitals. And in each case, each time a procurement exercise took place, a different machine was chosen as the most cost effective. The factor that should have been last on the list was placed first and people died. Remembering that Supply Management’s ultimate goal is value (creation), not cost (reduction), and in this case, the value was procuring the best IMD for the hospital, not the cheapest one today, where the best IMD was one that was easy to use, programmed with easy range checks, reliable, fault tolerant, long lasting, and safe and reasonably priced with respect to these requirements. Considering the inherent value in human life (and the cost of the lawsuit or settlement that the hospital is going to have to pay as a result of a preventable death), if that means spending 20% more, so be it.

If instead of sourcing IMDs as one-off sourcing events when a need arose, Supply Management put security and sustainability first and foremost and redefined IMF sourcing as a multi-year master contract agreement, negotiated against projected demand over the next 3-5 years, lives might have been saved as there would likely not be more than two types of IMDs at any one time (the ones sourced during the last contract, and the ones being sourced during the current contract, where the contract length is defined to insure all of the old machines are replaced before a new contract is negotiated with the possibility of switching vendors) and the amount of training the health care staff would need would be minimal.

And the reality is that medical device sourcing is not the only area of Supply Management where lives are at stake. Supply Managers also source food and beverage categories, and melamine in the milk, diethylene glycol in the toothpaste, salmonella in the spinach, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the beef (which can cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), and botulism in the chili sauce can all result in death, and if not caught in time, can be as deadly as a plague or coronavirus (SARS).

And Food & Beverage is just one example. The chemical sector is another. What if the chemicals are hazardous and the storage units are poorly made and leak? Cyanogen chloride is colourless, and deadly, and used in the production of Chlorosulfonyl isocyanate which is used in medicine in the production of Beta-lactams, which form the foundation of antibiotics (including penicillin).

Another is heavy machinery. Carbon monoxide (CO) is regularly produced by internal combustion engines in enclosed spaces. If the exhaust system is not airtight and properly insulated, CO could leak into the factory and poison (or kill) your workers before they even know it’s there as it is an odourless colourless gas.

The point is, where physical products are concerned, almost anything you source could be a hazard to human health, and even life. (We still have problems with led in the paint and asbestos in the insulation when sourcing from overseas.) This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to worry about services — it just depends on what you’re sourcing and what products and materials the service providers have to use in the performance of their jobs. For example, Janitorial Services could be a problem if the company is contracted to provide the cleaning products and they consistently use cleaners with too high a borax concentration which is not properly cleaned up.

So, next time you source, get out that corporate social responsibility scorecard; make sure safety, security, and sustainability play a prominent role, and remember that, indirectly, you could be responsible for someone’s life.

Your job just changed, didn’t it?