In the fight against infection prevention in hospitals, it’s critical to make sure staff are using their personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly. All the prevention strategies in the world won’t make any difference in infection rates if staff aren’t following basic protocol with their PPE.
While proper usage of PPE won’t keep germs out of hospital wards and operating rooms, it can reduce the likelihood staff and patients are exposed to bacteria that can make them ill or worsen their health.
An article published in Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare (PSQH) gives a rundown of four types of PPE in hospitals – and how to make sure clinical staff are using them correctly.
Gloves are the most basic form of PPE found in hospitals. Combined with proper hand hygiene, the proper use of gloves can help keep germs under control behind hospital walls.
Small mistakes when using gloves can have big consequences, exposing patients and staff to harmful bacteria. Although it may seem elementary to some experienced clinical staff, it’s important to regularly review the proper techniques for wearing and removing gloves, making sure contaminated gloves don’t come into contact with bare skin and that they’re changed correctly when caring for patients.
2. Lab coats
Traditionally, healthcare workers were required to wear lab coats throughout the workday to protect scrubs from contamination. This practice has fallen out of favor in many cases, since staff often feel uncomfortable wearing them.
However, there’s been a recent movement to have providers wear white coats regularly again, partially to boost trust and respect levels in patients, and partially to cut down on contamination risks when handling hazardous substances like chemicals or blood, especially for staff who work primarily in a hospital’s laboratory.
Modern lab coats are more comfortable than their heavier counterparts, often made from lighter materials. Hospitals can also invest in disposable coats, or adjust the facility’s temperature so staff are more comfortable in the heavier traditional coats.
Footwear is an often neglected form of PPE for hospital workers. But it’s essential for safety, especially in areas where spills are likely. A doctor or nurse could slip at any time and become injured. Or a staff member could lose footing while lifting or transporting a patient, putting both themselves and the patient at risk.
Healthcare workers should never wear open-toed shoes or shoes with improper treads in any circumstances. Instead, all footwear must have the appropriate heel and ankle support, and it should be sturdy enough to protect the foot if heavy items or chemicals fall on the shoe. Non-skid strips on the sole of the shoe further reduce the risk of injury.
4. Respiratory protection
Using PPE for respiratory protection is crucial – so important, in fact, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated its guidance for this area in health care.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities must create and maintain a respiratory protection program. Without one, hospitals are putting workers in danger – and subjecting themselves to citations and fines from OSHA.
Proper respirator use protects both patients and workers from airborne bacteria that cause illnesses such as tuberculosis. Rather than simply wearing paper masks, staff who may be exposed to patients with these illnesses should wear properly fitted respirator masks (though patients with certain infectious conditions may have to wear paper masks in some cases).
OSHA has specific guidance for hospitals looking to create a respiratory program on its website, including descriptions of different respirator masks that are appropriate in certain situations, best practices for developing respiratory protection plans and instructions for conducting a hazard assessment to ensure your facility has the proper PPE available depending on potential risks.