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Health care workers face a number of safety hazards every time they step into hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. These workers handle body fluids, use hazardous chemicals and perform repetitive physical tasks. All health care professionals should know examples of common safety issues and understand how to protect themselves from harm.
Bloodborne pathogens transmit bacterial and viral infections via blood and other body fluids. Contact with these fluids increases the risk for infection, so you must protect yourself by wearing personal protective equipment. Gowns and gloves keep body fluids off your skin. Face shields and safety goggles prevent body fluids from splashing into the eyes. If you must perform CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, wear a mask to prevent infectious organisms from coming into contact with your face and mouth.
Health care workers may come into contact with contaminated needles, scalpels and other sharp objects. Sustaining a sharps injury increases the risk for transmission of infectious diseases, so you must take steps to protect yourself. One of the best ways to prevent sharps injuries is to avoid the use of needles whenever possible. Some hospitals have controls that reduce needle usage by focusing on using alternate routes of medication administration or eliminating unnecessary blood draws. If you cannot avoid using needles and other sharps, use work-practice controls to reduce your risk of injury. These controls include using instruments to grasp sharp objects, warning others when you are about to pass a sharp instrument, passing sharp instruments in basins instead of passing them from hand to hand, using blunt suture needles and using scalpel blades with rounded tips.
Health care workers may have to lift immobile patients or help patients transfer between beds and wheelchairs. This puts them at risk for musculoskeletal injuries, which affect the muscles, ligaments, joints, bones, tendons, nerves, cartilage or blood vessels in the head, neck, limbs or back. Protect yourself from this type of injury by using slings, slip sheets, electronic hoists and other assistive devices whenever possible. If this type of device is not available, use proper body mechanics to reduce the risk of injury. When lifting a patient, keep your feet apart and your knees bent, as recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Instead of reaching across a patient's bed, move along the side of the bed to provide bedside care. NIOSH also recommends making sure the head of the bed is flat when pulling someone into a sitting position.
The American College of Surgeons reports that approximately 2,260 hospital fires occur each year. Operating rooms contain oxygen, cloth drapes, plastic masks, methane, antiseptic agents, nitrous oxide, hydrogen and other flammable materials. OR personnel should minimize the risk of fires by using water-soluble materials to cover flammable parts of the body; draping patients in a way that prevents the buildup of oxygen and nitrous oxide; keeping electrocautery tools in their holsters unless they are being used; and using surgical drapes made of fire-retardant materials. If a fire breaks out anywhere in a medical facility, health care workers should remember the acronym RACE. They should rescue anyone nearby; activate the fire alarm; contain the fire by closing windows and doors; and use a fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. Hospital administrators should conduct fire drills regularly to ensure that workers know how to react in the event of a real fire.
The American Nurses Association reports that some of the chemicals used in the health care industry have been linked to cancer, asthma, neurological diseases, reproductive disorders and developmental disorders. These chemicals include triclosan, mercury, bisphenol A and phthalates. Medical professionals also come into contact with chemotherapeutic agents and medications that can have harmful effects if not handled properly. OSHA requires employers to train employees in the safe handling of hazardous substances and provide access to material safety data sheets, which detail the composition and potential dangers of each chemical used in a facility. Employees also have a responsibility to protect themselves by wearing gloves and other personal protective equipment when handling chemicals.
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Protecting Yourself From Bloodborne Pathogens
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Workbook for Designing, Implementing and Evaluating a Sharps Injury Prevention Program
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: How to Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders
- American College of Surgeons: Fires in the Operating Room
- AANA Journal: Operating Room Fires -- The CRNA and the Deposition
- Tennessee Wesleyan College: Safety in Hospitals
- Physicians for Social Responsibility: Hazardous Chemicals in Health Care
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Hazardous Chemicals
Leigh Ann Morgan began working as a writer in 2004. She has extensive experience in the business field having served as the manager of a $34 million rental property portfolio. Morgan also appeared as a guest on an episode of National Public Radio's "Marketplace Money" in 2005.