Writing a law and simply expecting someone to follow it isn’t always enough.
A serious accident involving medical gas in a local dentist’s office highlights such an instance. Although Lawrence city building codes require medical gas installations to be examined by a certified inspector, there is no requirement for the contractor on a project to verify that inspection has taken place.
Few details are available on a recent case of a Tonganoxie teen who went to the dentist to have his wisdom teeth removed and ended up at the Kansas University Medical Center after he received medical gas and quit breathing. However, allegations have surfaced that the incident was caused by the improper installation of the dentist’s medical gas system. It seems likely that the teen’s family is contemplating legal action in the case over a hazard that could easily have been avoided.
Several communities contacted by the Journal-World said they required contractors to file written confirmation that private inspectors had examined medical gas installations. That seems like a reasonable step although Lawrence’s director of planning and development services seemed concerned about requiring additional paperwork.
“Events like this highlight the importance of contractors knowing and understanding the code and fulfilling its own requirements,” the planning official said. Might we add that events like this also highlight the importance of public officials making sure those requirements are fulfilled.
It’s understandable that both city officials and contractors are loathe to approve new rules that require additional paperwork or add expense to building projects, but situations in which serious health risks are involved demand extra attention. The improper installation of medical gas obviously poses a far greater health hazard than an improperly installed toilet or concrete that doesn’t meet code standards. Spot inspections aren’t enough.
Is there any doubt that the dentist or contractor involved in this case would have far preferred to pay for a private inspection and file verification of that inspection with the city than to face the situation now before them? And that doesn’t even consider the anguish of the teen and his family.
One incident like this is one too many. The city may not be able to guarantee that nothing like this ever happens again, but requiring an inspection verification would at least reduce the odds. Lawrence city commissioners should make sure this situation is reviewed and acted upon as quickly as possible.