Safety should be the priority in Sterile Processing (SP)
The primary goal for all sterile processing departments (SPD) is to provide high-quality products or medical devices that are safe to use on patients. While this is significant, it should be supported with the purpose of keeping all visitors, patients, and workers safe while providing that care and support. The sterile processing (SP) environment is not only technical and challenging but can be hazardous to those working there every day. Avoiding safety policies and procedures can cause turmoil and unsafe practices for not only the staff members but also create poor outcomes for patients, affecting the success or reputation of the healthcare institution. When employees are injured, or put at risk, the quality of the work is reduced and could even stop altogether. Each SP professional has a responsibility to focus on creating and maintaining a safe working environment for them and their peers.
Let us look at the primary focus areas for all SPD’s when focusing on safety first.
Technicians must understand the hazards associated with the chemicals they are using on a regular basis. They need to know if any chemicals can be absorbed into the skin, eyes or body, any threats posed by certain chemicals, respiratory concerns, and the effects if a worker is exposed during pregnancy. Sterile processing leaders and educators should ensure that their team is aware of each chemical being used and understand the safety precautions before being exposed. Here are a few examples.
- Having written policies and procedures that define the safe use of chemicals.
- Supplying documented safety data sheets (SDS) to all employees that are easy to locate and read for every working shift. There should be no barriers for immediate access to the SDS for each chemical.
- Implementing a hazard communication plan that includes all hazardous materials that are used in the department, such as detergents, high-level disinfectants and sterilant.
- Ensure that Chemical Spill Kits are available, and training is provided on how to properly address any spill that could potentially take place, including bodily fluids and other potential infectious materials (OPIM).
While we might assume that physical safety is everyone’s’ personal responsibility, it is also the department leadership’s responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for the team. Just like patients, employees may suffer from falls or back injuries as well as sharps injuries while on the job. Effective SP leaders should pay close attention to the reaction speed and urgency of their team, and their workflow, to physically navigate around the unit safely. Here are a few key factors to consider ensuring the physical welfare of your team.
- Supply personal protective equipment (PPE), in all sizes, and compliant materials that fit the needs of your entire team. Ensuring PPE is approved, validated, and equipped to supply the proper protection for your reprocessing personnel in all areas of the department.
- Incorporate ergonomic design features that reduce the risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These repetitive motion injuries can be caused by overuse and motions that are unsafe. Observe work practices and the layout of the unit to help prevent these from happening.
- Effective sharps safety procedures that include discarding and handling of sharps within the reprocessing area, both from patient care receiving to sharp surgical instruments that need to be processed.
- Equipment that is maintained effectively and properly to ensure safe daily use and limits the potential for injury. Work with equipment manufacturers to ensure proper daily, weekly and annual checks are in place and proper team training is performed to ensure safe use of all equipment.
Every hospital faces the chance of emergencies that could disrupt normal operations or the community. “Disasters preparedness is the ability to respond to an emergency effectively and mitigate the or reduce the effects of the disaster” (Management, 2020). SP Professionals must expect the unexpected and understand their role in helping their facility keep employees safe, while also continuing the care they promise to their patients. Each unit should create an emergency preparedness plan, which includes training for all staff as well as practice on how to implement it in times of urgency. Here are a few examples of emergencies.
- Water and Steam outages that affect operations.
- Power Loss and failures for the facility.
- Computer Failures or loss of connectivity, or internet connection.
- Weather emergencies such as storms, hurricanes, or flooding.
- Community emergencies or disasters that include mass casualties, such as traffic accidents, or industrial incidents.
Medical equipment preparation and device reprocessing includes a variety of safety concerns from sharps safety to equipment safety. Having definitive first aid procedures and plans in place will help the team feel more confident in their environment and better prepared to remedy injury more quickly and safely. Each SP unit should be equipped with the following to help the staff stay safe in their normal working responsibilities.
- Emergency eye wash stations and showers that are tested, clean, functional and compliant.
- Ability to move freely, without trips, slips, and fall hazards.
- Wet floor signs in areas where moisture could be retained, and pooling may occur.
- Proper signage and labeling on items that require signage, such as exit doors.
- Fire safety measures including alarms or evacuation paths, extinguishers, and blankets, even first safety storage boxes for hazardous chemicals that require secure storage.
- Batteries, flashlights, and emergency kits that are available if the unit experiences a power failure or disaster.
- First aid kits that support the health and safety of the department with sharps injuries, cuts, scraps or normal handling risk.
The SPD has a wide variety of environmental concerns as well as responsibilities when it comes to their employees as well as patients. Not only are their specific regulations about the environment to ensure sterilized items avoid damage or the creation of any cross-contamination risks, but there are also a variety of things to be considered when creating a “safe” working environment in such a fast-paced place. Here are just a few examples.
- Monitoring for sterilant use and exposure to chemicals in high-level disinfection practices.
- Temperature and humidity controls that are monitored and approved by the facility guidelines, policies, or procedures. Proper ambient air temperature and humidity are needed to maintain the sterility of processed articles and for employee comfort.
- Air quality and air flow should move from clean to dirty areas and be safe from toxins. Since air naturally moves from spaces of higher pressure to those of lower pressure, storage and prep areas should be kept at positive pressure while soiled should be kept negative.
These are just a few examples of areas within an organization that rely on the ability and support of the sterile processing professionals to conduct patient care activities. Maintaining a safe working environment that the team feel comfortable and confident in is just as important as training technicians to complete their duties and the fundamentals needed to properly run the department.
Author: Randalyn Walters
References and Resources:
Central Service Leadership Manual. Third ed., International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, 2020.