As all healthcare workers will know, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities can be busy, hectic places packed full of potential hazards. From infection to accidental injury and harassment to chemical spills, these working environments are often dangerous places to work, with more reported accidents, injuries, and work-related illnesses than any other industry. In fact, it’s estimated that a significant 650,000 healthcare professionals are injured on the job every year.
Minimizing the risk to those working within the industry is a priority for all stakeholders, from healthcare providers to caregivers and medical professionals, and even to some degree, patients. However, achieving this in any given medical facility is no easy task.
For managers and supervisors, assessing the risk of injury each worker faces, taking steps to improve employee wellbeing, and improving working conditions across the board can go a long way to preventing both fatal and nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in all healthcare settings.
To help guide a comprehensive workplace safety program, here we look at what some of the main considerations and eight of the most important healthcare facility safety tips.
What are the Safety Measures in a Healthcare Facilities?
Most hospitals in the US have a long list of procedures, rules, and regulations designed to keep staff and patients safe. Like almost all workplaces across the country, hospitals are required to abide by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the act incorporates recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
On top of these general health and safety recommendations, OSHA has also created a set of guidelines and resources specifically aimed at healthcare facilities. These cover areas that are particular to hospitals and, when properly implemented, should help to protect healthcare workers and improve patient care.
How Does OSHA Protect Healthcare Workers?
To kick off, it's worth noting that there are numerous existing frameworks in place to guide health and safety policies within the industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, protects healthcare workers in both public and private industry by developing and updating industry-specific health and safety guidelines on a regular basis.
OSHA understands that hospitals can be dangerous places to work, and it aims to offer comprehensive guidance on a range of areas, including:
- Culture of Safety – Explores safety culture within healthcare facilities and links patient to worker safety.
- Infectious Diseases – Discusses how occupational exposure to infectious diseases can be managed.
- Safe Patient Handling - Compiles information and resources on musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.
- Workplace Violence - Explores workplace violence in the healthcare industry and how to evaluate hazards and determine solutions and risk factors.
- Other Hazards - Explores other hazards in the healthcare industry, including chemicals, hazardous drugs, and materials that cause allergic reactions.
- Standards – Highlights best-practice standards and other enforcement information within to the healthcare industry.
What are Some Safety Tips to Remember on the Job?
- Be Aware of Chemical Hazards
Most healthcare professionals will work with chemicals on a daily basis. Whether cleaning products or substances used in tests and assessments, these chemicals can be harmful if they’re not handled correctly.
Any staff member that works with dangerous chemicals should be trained in the proper use and disposal of the product to comply with new OSHA guidelines.
- Avoid Overexertion
There’s no denying that working in any healthcare facility can be tiring. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals regularly work around the clock with few breaks. This can leave many with musculoskeletal disorders, back injuries, other aches and pains, as well as fatigue and its associated issues.
Where possible, employees should avoid overexertion, take regular breaks, and stay hydrated. Where this isn’t an option, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals should work to minimize the impact of long shifts and physical work.
- Provide Plenty of PPE
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has always been an important part of hospital safety. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how effective gloves, face shields, gowns and masks can be at reducing infection rates and keeping staff and patients safe. Today, however, healthcare facilities must provide employees with full PPE, while also keeping sufficient stocks to prevent shortages in times of emergency—such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff should be trained in the proper use and disposal of the equipment, while alternative gloves should also be made available for any workers with a latex allergy.
- Keep Up to Date on Patient Handling Guidelines
Learning how to lift and maneuver patients properly can help to minimize injuries to both hospital staff and the people they care for. Hospital managers should run regular training sessions to help ensure everyone who works in their hospital is fully up to date on the latest patient handling advice.
- Be Aware of Bloodborne Pathogens
Needlestick injuries are a major hazard of the job for many healthcare workers. Experts estimate that there are around 600,000 sharps injuries in the US every year, many of which go unreported.
Needlestick injuries can lead to the transmission of bloodborne pathogens and spread diseases like HIV. Hospital managers should introduce regular needles and sharps training sessions to help minimize the number of injuries.
- Use Official Hospital IDs
Wearing official hospital ID helps healthcare workers to identify each other and spot people who may be trespassing in the space. Many US hospitals have now made wearable IDs mandatory and increasing their use in healthcare settings may help to keep staff and workers safe.
- Implement Panic Button Systems
Personal panic buttons can be incredibly useful in healthcare settings, and when issued to doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, they can allow individuals to summon help quickly and effectively if they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Panic buttons can also be used to get help to patients in distress outside of normal operating areas and to attend to healthcare professionals injured on the job.
- Report Workplace Violence
Hospital managers should work to ensure employees feel confident reporting any workplace violence that they see or experience. Putting procedures in place and encouraging staff to use them should help managers to spot any potentially dangerous behavior before it’s too late.
Why is Health and Safety Important in Healthcare Facilities?
Healthcare has one of the highest rates of workplace injury in the US. In fact, in 2017, the health care and social assistance industry reported more injury and illness cases than any other private industry sector. Introducing comprehensive safety measures is the best way to protect staff and patients, minimize worker compensation claims, and help to create a safer environment for everyone.
Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for comprehensive safety guidelines in the healthcare industry, particularly where PPE, infectious disease control, and employee safety is concerned. Even with full protective equipment in place, hospital and nursing home staff are at increased risk of coronavirus infection, and the glaring shortages of PPE have forced many hospitals and facilities simply make the best of a bad situation—something that should not be tolerated in any 21st century healthcare system.
Perhaps of equal concern, attacks on medical professionals around the world have revealed some of the issues employees face on a daily basis. Greater adoption of panic buttons and structures that do not punish staff for reporting violent or sexual assault, for both patients and other staff members, is crucial to ensuring this type of threat is reduced.