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1997-11-06 18:54:35


Health Care: Lives at Stake



Could anyone die because of a y2k-related failure in a medical device? The experts still are not sure. The fact that they still are not sure this late in the process is worrysome.

In Great Britain, the government could shut down suspected machines. This is the safe way out for a regulatory agency. This appears to be the implied threat in recent statements by the agency in charge. Criminal prosecution is even possible.

Who in 2000 is deliberately going to hook anyone up to a noncompliant machine? Nobody. But which machines will be noncompliant? That will take some doing to find out. Meanwhile, there will be people in 2000 waiting to get diagnosed. But nobody will be sued in Great Brttain for the death of someone waiting to be diagnosed. He could be sued for having performed an inaccurate diagnosis on a noncompliant machine if the patirnt subsequently gets sick or dies.

The weight of the legal sanctions is on the side of unplugging the devices.

The article appeared in COMPUTERWEEKLY NEWS (Nov. 6).

* * * * * * * *

Certainly the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for ensuring that staff and the public are not endangered in the workplace, or by the actions of employers, is taking the concern seriously. It has commissioned detailed research into whether year 2000 failure could endanger employees and the public. "The purpose of the research is to identify any vulnerable safety-related systems," said an HSE spokesman. . . .

The report will be published next month, and it will give the executive the information it needs to decide whether it should issue guidelines to employers about how they should go about investigating their IT systems with respect to their impact on health and safety. The existing powers of the HSE mean that, should there be a clear indication that equipment is at risk of behaving dangerously because of non-compliance of its embedded control system, then the company using the equipment can be ordered to fix it.

If it is not fixed, the HSE can then order it to be turned off. As a last resort, the company -- and, in some cases, an individual manager -- could face criminal prosecution, resulting in fines, and even imprisonment. The key point is that all the HSE has to do is demonstrate "sufficient evidence to show risk" to take action. It does not have to wait for the equipment to fail and injury or death to occur.


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