How to avoid occupational hazards in the operating room

April 29, 2015

When looking to manage and reduce the number of needlestick injuries occurring across an entire hospital, it's essential to conduct risk assessments so that it is clear to see which areas, departments or staff members are the most at risk. This not only helps target resources and training but means it's simple to find solutions that address the unique demands and risks of the department or level of healthcare worker.

It has been estimated that around 400,000 sharp injuries happen each year in the US, with around a quarter of these being sustained by surgeons. With the amount of sharps that are used as an essential part of the operating room, it is perhaps no surprise that surgeons are considered to be the most at-risk staff members.

With this information at-hand, hospitals can better target training to find ways to ensure that surgeons, and everyone else in the operating theatre, are safeguarded and that any risks are as minimal as possible.

Like many areas of hospitals and medical organisations, there are a number of occupational hazards and risks that healthcare workers are exposed to. Taking in the bigger picture can help reduce the number of needlestick injuries as it encourages a "safety culture" and ensures each person is taking all necessary steps at all times to protect themselves.

Sharps injuries and other physical hazards 

Physical injuries, such as those from sharps, electrical shocks, burns and falls are some of the most common hazards for surgeons. With sharps being essential for almost every step taken in the operating room, it's crucial that surgeons and other staff members in this area are trained in the ways they can minimise their risk. This includes the safe disposal of medical equipment and what they should do to prepare themselves before stepping into the operating room.

Laser equipment can cause severe burns, while it's possible that liquid can be spilled, which makes the area slippery and puts the risk of head injuries and falls at a much higher level. However, there are certain measures, such as wearing the right protective clothing and shoes, that can safeguard surgeons and other healthcare workers in theatre from these hazards.

Biological hazards

The true danger posed by sharps injuries is that the healthcare worker will be exposed to bloodborne pathogens that transmit HIV, hepatitis C or another life-changing disease. People in the operating room commonly come into contact with blood and other body fluids even if they are not directly involved with the surgical practice. 
This reinforces the importance of sharps safety and ensuring this stays at the forefront of each healthcare worker's mind until the needle or scalpel is contained in an appropriate disposal container. 

These hazards make it essential that all surgical professionals follow any established guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure and infection.

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