Hazards abound in the average hospital. Here are a few tips that can help prevent some common injuries:
- Try not to strain when lifting. If you do have to lift patients or heavy equipment, bend with your knees, not with your back. If your job involves lots of lifting, you may do better to use mechanical lifts, pivot disks, and slide boards to transfer patients from place to place. Make sure grab bars and trapezes are installed near beds, toilets, and showers for patients who are able to assist themselves. Be sure you know how to use the equipment properly and are skilled in lifting techniques for times when the equipment is not available or it's not practical to use it.
- When possible, work in pairs when lifting heavy patients or supplies. In some nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, a few employees with special training and equipment do all transfers of patients in and out of beds or wheelchairs.
- Make sure that the equipment you have is in good working order. Bed cranks should be oiled regularly, and wheelchair casters and wheels on carts should move smoothly.
- If you're dealing with broken equipment, spills, and leaks, report it before it becomes a hazard.
- Prevent needlesticks through safe handling techniques. Plan for the safe handling and disposal of used needles before beginning any procedure. The federal Needlestick Prevention and Safety Act requires hospitals to provide safe needles to its workers: Urge your management to purchase them. They're more expensive, but you face fewer risks.
- Use protective equipment. Some hospitals equip laundry workers with special gloves so that they don't get pricked accidentally while handling soiled bed linens that can hide spent needles.
- Isolate patients with tuberculosis. Make sure that patients with contagious cases are identified early and isolated before they're treated so that workers and other patients don't contract tuberculosis. Carefully follow posted rules regarding contact with them, using masks and gowns when entering rooms. Make sure there is good ventilation and clean filters in the building, which helps remove bacteria from the air you breathe. If you work with these patients, you should have a skin test once or twice a year. If you are, seek treatment. Patients with TB need to be treated for up to 12 months, and you shouldn't work until you're no longer infectious.
- Protect yourself against assaults. While most patients are not violent, sometimes they can assault you without realizing what they're doing. Make sure patients who have a history of psychiatric disorders are clearly identified. When such patients have to be transported, ask for help in restraining them.
Hospital eTool: Stress. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Hospital eTool: Ergonomics. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Occupational hazards for hospital workers. Occupational Health Center, Manitoba. http://www.mflohc.mb.ca/fact_sheets_folder/hospital_hazards_revised.pdf
U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention, http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/bloodbornepathogens/index.html.