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Worker safety is key for patient care

January 27, 2015

A recent report entitled 'Improving Patient and Worker Safety: Opportunities for Synergy, Collaboration and Innovation' has highlighted the key relationship between improving the safety of healthcare worker and ensuring patient care.

The document claims that any injuries, such as needlesticks, or illnesses among members of staff act as a warning that there are measures that need to be taken to ensure the hospital or organisation is running as well as possible.

In a foreword to the report, Dr Paul M. Schyve, senior advisor for healthcare improvement at the Joint Commission, says: “In healthcare, the primary ethical imperative is ‘First, do no harm.’ Although we have traditionally applied this obligation to our patients, this monograph helps to establish it also as our obligation to those with whom we work - and to all within the healthcare setting.“

A organisation-wide culture of health and safety can only be achieved through various infection control measures, which safeguard both employees and patients. In the first instance, it makes it far less likely that anyone - whether a patient or healthcare worker - is exposed to an infection or disease.  These can include anything from healthcare worker immunisation programmes to education, training and reporting any breaches or near-misses. Importantly for those tasked with sharps safety, it also incorporates the risk of occupational exposure and using equipment that reduces this, such as safety-engineered devices or gloves and masks.

There are various healthcare organisation practices that can help to address patient and worker safety at the same time, while also adding potential cost savings. One of the most relevant of these for people in the healthcare industry is how teams can work together to champion sharps safety and prevent injuries.

Sharps injury prevention
There are numerous benefits of encouraging a culture of sharps safety throughout a hospital or healthcare organisation, both for the members of staff, patients and relatives. Introducing safety-engineered devices reduces the chance of a healthcare worker being injured while carrying out a medical procedure, but also limits the chance of the patient being hurt. This is obviously best delivered alongside a comprehensive training and education programme. 

It's also important that healthcare workers know how to support patients that may be nervous of needles or an injection as they are more likely to flinch or move suddenly, which can result in either or both parties being injured.

Sharps injury prevention also involves addressing certain behaviours in the hospital and what is and isn't appropriate. It should be clear to staff that they need to limit hand transfers of surgical instruments in the operating room or any other environment where dangerous instruments are being passed from one person to another. It's also vital that healthcare workers know how to operate the safety-engineered devices and whether they need to do anything to activate the safety feature. 

The potential benefit of this for patients is that there overall risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens is substantially reduced, as is the risk undertaken by the members of staff themselves.

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