Suboptimal adherence to sharps safety procedures in US report finds

Wednesday March 15 2017

Compliance with standard precautions designed to prevent the transmission of infections due to sharps injuries or poor hygiene practices is 'suboptimal' across US hospitals.

This is the conclusion of a new report published in Infection Control Today, based on the analysis of several previous studies examining adherence to standard precautions in hospitals across the country, finding that, on the whole, standards were fairly lax.

For instance, a 2016 study revealed that healthcare workers did not wear sterile surgical gloves during 13 per cent of observed encounters, subsequently putting themselves at increased risk of suffering a needlestick injury. 

In addition, failure to wear protective gloves meant bacteria from their hands or other items they had touched could have found its way on to a needle being used to penetrate the skin of a patient, increasing their risk of contracting a blood-borne infection - one that could potentially be as serious as hepatitis C or even HIV.

Meanwhile, protective gowns were not worn during almost half (43 per cent) of encounters observed by a healthcare inspector or senior medical professional, meaning the same risks of infection spreading were apparent.

The report authors stated: "These findings are concerning given the high burden of [healthcare worker] sharps injury and blood-borne pathogen exposures, transmission risks of epidemic concern, such as influenza, and in the context of accruing evidence of the importance of environmental cleanliness to prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infection."

Infection Control Today's analysis also showed that nurses and other healthcare workers do not always wash their hands before treating patients, which again could be increasing the risk of infection spreading. 

Previous research has shown that 94 per cent of nurses believe they follow standard precautions relating to handwashing, but when observed, this adherence was only found to be at 62 per cent. 

This indicates that healthcare workers know of the correct safety precautions they should be following, but there is a significant disparity between their knowledge and the reality of what they actually do.

As a result, it is evident that a reminder of recommended safety precautions could be beneficial to healthcare workers in the US, particularly with regard to preventing the spread of potentially life-threatening infections through improved sharps safety procedures.

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