Hazard Hospital: Hazards to Be Aware of in Healthcare Settings
Every year, there are approximately 36.5 million hospital admissions in the US.
The entire purpose of a hospital is to help people in terms of their health, so most don’t think of them as dangerous environments. In reality, however, there are plenty of risks in hospitals that staff, patients, and visitors should be aware of. It’s difficult to say what the most significant hazard in a hospital is, as they vary greatly.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most important hazards in healthcare settings that you should be aware of. Keep reading for more.
Any hospital will have a wide chemical inventory. These are typical for healthcare and are primarily used to keep them clean. Disinfectants, sterilizers, and other cleaning agents are vital for ensuring healthcare facilities are sanitary.
Healthcare workers will often use different types of hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, and ethylene oxide to clean surgical equipment and other areas. This ensures environments won’t cause harm to anyone in them.
If anyone uses these chemicals incorrectly, however, they can put people at significant risk of carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects. It’s important to protect your staff and patients from overexposure to hazardous chemicals. There are requirements, safety protocols, and best practices set out by OSHA that you must follow.
Protocols can differ somewhat depending on the chemical in question, but there are general guidelines for handling anything that could be hazardous. If staff are using these chemicals to clean, sterilize, disinfect, or sanitize, they should always do the following:
- Properly label hazardous chemicals
- Wear suitable PPE
- Dispose of hazardous agents correctly
- Report any spills or leaks immediately
- Report exposure incidents immediately
- Understand the symptoms and signs of illness that can come from exposure to hazardous chemicals
Accidents can always happen, but if your employees are doing things right, the risk of any issues arising will be minimal.
Like chemicals, hazardous drugs are vital in the healthcare industry. Similarly, they can also present a risk when used incorrectly. Exposure to hazardous drugs can result in acute and chronic health issues such as rashes, cancer, adverse reproductive outcomes, and more.
Not all drugs in healthcare environments are hazardous. They may be considered as such if they have any of the following descriptive criteria:
- Reproductive toxicity
- Organ toxicity at low doses
- Teratogenicity/Developmental toxicity
- Structure/toxicity profiles of new drugs that mimic existing hazardous drugs
One of the most important things to understand about hazardous drugs is that the issues they cause can be very serious and are sometimes irreversible. Employees must therefore follow OSHA’s guidelines on controlling exposure to hazardous drugs.
These guidelines cover the following:
- How to handle hazardous drugs
- How to administer them properly while minimizing the risk of personal exposure
- How do dispose of hazardous drugs properly
- How to store and transport these drugs
- How to deal with spills and leaks
Making sure your employees understand the risks associated with hazardous drugs and how to avoid these risks will help improve healthcare worker safety.
Radiation is another risk that people are sometimes exposed to in healthcare settings. Fixed and portable X-ray machines and other diagnostic equipment can give off radiation, and it’s important to ensure exposure to these is kept to a minimum.
Exposure can vary a lot when these machines are in use. The closer someone is to the equipment and the longer it’s in use, the greater the exposure. As such, healthcare professionals should stay at a safe distance and wear suitable protective gear whenever using anything that generates radiation.
Acute radiation can cause various health issues such as weakness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Chronic exposure can cause more severe issues and may lead to teratogenic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic effects.
As with chemicals and drugs, OSHA has guidelines in place that you should follow to protect your employees from radiation exposure. Some of these guidelines include:
- Having barrier walls and lead-plated glass in X-ray rooms
- Lead aprons, lead gloves, and opaque googles for workers to wear
- Keeping any radioactive sources stored in a separate, shielded area
- Providing personnel monitoring equipment such as pocket dosimeters, pocket chambers, and film badges
- Maintaining detailed records of any radiation exposure
For patients coming in for a one-off X-ray, for example, there isn’t much of a concern. Short-term exposure is very unlikely to have any kind of effect on someone.
For healthcare professionals, however, much more care is needed. They may regularly work in areas with radiation exposure. If they’re not following the correct procedures, it could lead to some very serious health issues.
Bodily fluids (particularly blood) can carry and transmit bacterial and viral infections. This can be a major issue in healthcare settings where bodily fluids are dealt with quite often.
Any healthcare professional that’s dealing with blood should take proper precautions. This starts with wearing suitable protective gear such as goggles, latex gloves, and gowns. These can all help prevent contamination.
It’s also important to ensure proper care is taken to minimize the risk of exposure to infection-causing micro-organisms. Proper hand hygiene is simple but very important. Make sure there are hand-washing facilities such as sinks and hand sanitizer readily available to everyone and encourage their use.
Before any surgical procedures or I.V. injections, antiseptics and disinfectants should be applied to the skin. All instruments should also be properly cleaned and decontaminated.
Even when taking all the right precautions, employees could still be exposed to bodily fluids. They should all be immunized against hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and any bloodborne or airborne pathogens.
There are various sharp objects in healthcare environments, such as scalpels and needles. When used for medical procedures, contamination can be common. They shouldn’t be used again until they’re properly cleaned and decontaminated.
Healthcare workers may come into contact with these, and sharp objects could easily pierce or cut gloves, clothing, and other gear. This presents more of a risk, so your employees must take proper care of them.
There should be safety disposal boxes for syringes, and any worker who uses a syringe should dispose of them immediately. This means no recapping needles or leaving them to the side after use. Blunt suture needles and scalpel blades with rounded tips can help reduce the level of risk, so workers should use these when possible.
Unsafe Patient Handling
Patients can be suffering from all kinds of issues, and there are plenty who may have issues with mobility. Aids like wheelchairs and crutches are ideal, but some people may need personal assistance.
Healthcare professionals need to be careful when helping patients move. This can involve lifting, repositioning, and transferring them. Using improper techniques can result in various kinds of injuries.
Low back pain is a common issue for nurses, and having to lift patients can make this much worse. Not only will this be a problem for them, but it can result in them not being able to do their job effectively. They may even end up needing to receive healthcare for this issue themselves.
Workers should always assess a situation before moving a patient. They need to determine if it’s safe for them to do so, and seek assistance if it isn’t. Planning tasks out can be ideal, so if they know they need to move patients throughout the day, they can always be ready.
Lifting aids are ideal and can help prevent unnecessary lifting. If there aren’t any lifting aids available, employees should always get a colleague to help them lift the patient. It can also be beneficial to adjust working areas to make things easier.
Psycho-Social Risks and Mental Health
This is perhaps the most difficult hazard to monitor, but it’s incredibly important in the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers are often under tight time constraints, and there are plenty of occasions where they don’t have as much control over situations as would be ideal.
Long working hours are common, as well as working irregular shifts. This can make things difficult, especially for anyone who has trouble sleeping.
This is all on top of the fact that healthcare can take a mental toll anyway. Working with patients who are often in pain and going through difficult times isn’t easy to deal with.
You should work to address these psychological risk factors where possible. You can do this by:
- Reducing workloads
- Improving communication
- Promoting teamwork
- Scheduling changes
- Providing stress management and self-care training
It can be difficult to monitor the mental health of your employees, but you should always do what you can to support them. This will improve their quality of life and ensure they’re always in the best state to take care of patients.
Minimizing the Risk of Any Hazard in a Hospital
Any hazard in a hospital can cause serious harm, be it chemicals, hazardous drugs, radiation, or anything else. It’s important to take all the right precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible at all times.
Kelleher, Helmrich, and Associates, Inc. (KHA) is dedicated to helping our clients maintain safe working environments. We’ve been a leader in Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Management since 1985, so have plenty of experience in various industries. Take a look at our safety solutions today to see what we can offer.