Five types of PPE and how staff is misusing them

Hospital Safety Insider, May 5, 2016

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One of the first things that a student learns in medical school, one of the first thing a worker learned on the job, and perhaps the most important of the things you as a safety professional can be a pest about with your employees is the importance of proper on-the-job protection.

Over the years, PPE-and standards from OSHA and other regulators-have been developed to help reduce and prevent workers from getting hurt or sick on the job. Yet, every year, we hear more about how healthcare workers have some of the highest workplace injury rates in any industry in the United States. To make things worse, every so often an illness rarely, if ever, seen in the U.S. makes its way into the country's healthcare facilities (think MERS in 2012 or Ebola in 2014) and changes the way the healthcare community looks at PPE. In addition, training often takes a back seat because of shrinking budgets and lack of time.

Mitigating hazardous situations or practices assumes that your workers are doing the right things in the first place. Some of our healthcare security experts shared some of the most common PPE mistakes they see made in clinics, and what needs to change.

Gloves. Simple latex (or more commonly, nitrile) gloves are perhaps the easiest and most widely used PPE in the healthcare environment (along with masks and goggles) today. With the advent of OSHA's 1991 bloodborne pathogens standard and the subsequent Needlestick Prevention Act in 2000, wearing protective gloves became a ubiquitous part of the PPE arsenal in healthcare.

Your staff isn't wearing it right. While gloves are seemingly extremely easy to use, there are many well-
intentioned healthcare workers out there who either don't wear gloves, forget to put them on, or taken them off incorrectly after caring for a patient. This can expose them to getting blood or other potentially infectious fluids on their skin. OSHA isn't going to tell you that your employees must wear gloves, just that you need to provide a safe workplace.

It's time to map out some time for an in-service training session. Emphasize the importance of wearing gloves whenever working with patients, chemicals, or bodily fluids-no matter how simple or trivial the task seems. Consult the American Red Cross or other infection control experts such as the CDC to demonstrate the proper procedure for putting on and taking off gloves without exposure to skin. It may seem like a simple training (especially to your long-timers), but a skills refresher is always a good idea.

Coats and splash protection. Hands aren't the only place where germs and chemicals can hitch a ride. Clothes, shoes, and accessories are considered places where germs can hide, so it's generally a no-no for healthcare workers (and lab workers) to wear things like watches, rings, neckties, and other unnecessary clothing items to work. It's also why eating and drinking, putting on cosmetics and other grooming tasks, and personal items such as cell phones and iPods are generally frowned upon in the workplace.

Your staff isn't wearing it right.
People generally have to wear clothes to work, and no matter what they wear, there's going to be the chance that they can carry germs home with them, or spill harmful chemicals on themselves while they work. Which is why lab coats and goggles were invented. The problem is that workers hate to wear them, especially when it gets warm outside. That's when you need to make sure the AC is turned on, and the lab coats stay on, because it's in those moments of non-compliance that will lead to a chemical spill that seeps through clothes to the skin, or germs getting carried home.

Really, when is the last time you took a good look at the shoes your staff are wearing? Chances are you haven't given it too much thought, but the fact is that the healthcare environment is no place for improper footwear. Many injuries can be caused if a worker slips or trips on a spill because of footwear without a sole with enough grip, or if chemicals drip onto the foot of someone wearing open-toed footwear, or if a heavy item falls onto the foot of someone wearing flimsy, as opposed to reinforced footwear.

Your staff isn't wearing it right.
Frankly, if they aren't wearing the proper footwear now, it's your fault, as it's your responsibility to make sure your employees are safe. That means you should be proactive, not only in educating them on proper footwear, but enforcing a workplace policy that requires proper uniform, with consequences for non-compliance.

This is an excerpt from the monthly healthcare safety resource Medical Environment Update. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Non-subscribers can find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.

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