“Gloves are an automatic yes when handling and opening tubes of blood and other specimens, cleaning, handling chemicals, performing stains, working with stool specimens—the list goes on and on,” says Linda Gylland, MLS (ASCP) QLS, a lab safety officer for Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota. “People are more aware of the unseen problems that can occur with lack of gloves, such as acquiring infections, and manufacturers have made great progress in comfortable gloves.”
Your staff isn’t wearing it right. While gloves are seemingly extremely easy to use, many well-intentioned healthcare workers either don’t wear gloves, forget to put them on, or take them off incorrectly after caring for a patient. This can expose them to getting blood or other potentially infectious fluids on their skin. OSHA isn’t going to tell you that your employees must wear gloves, just that you need to provide a safe workplace.
It’s time to map out some time for an in-service training session. Emphasize the importance of wearing gloves whenever working with patients, chemicals, or bodily fluids—no matter how simple or trivial the task seems. Consult the American Red Cross or other infection control experts such as the CDC to demonstrate the proper procedure for putting on and taking off gloves without exposure to skin. It may seem like a simple training (especially to your long-timers), but a skills refresher is always a good idea.
Coats and splash protection
Hands aren’t the only place where germs and chemicals can hitch a ride. Clothes, shoes, and accessories are considered places where germs can hide, so it’s generally a no-no for healthcare workers (and lab workers) to wear things like watches, rings, neckties, and other unnecessary clothing items to work. It’s also why eating and drinking, putting on cosmetics and other grooming tasks, and personal items such as cell phones and iPods are generally frowned upon in the workplace.
Your staff isn’t wearing it right. People generally have to wear clothes to work, and no matter what they wear, there’s going to be the chance that they can carry germs home with them, or spill harmful chemicals on themselves while they work. This is why lab coats and goggles were invented. The problem is that workers hate to wear them, especially when the weather gets warm. That’s when you need to make sure the AC is turned on, and the lab coats stay on, because it’s those moments of noncompliance that will lead to a chemical spill that seeps through clothes to the skin, or germs getting carried home.
“They can wear something cooler underneath, but especially in a lab you have to have a fluid-resistant coat,” says Debby Burton, MT, training and development director for Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville. “It’s very hard to get that across to some people. When you’re opening a tube of blood it can spray on you, and if you’re not covered it can get on you.”
Complaints have led manufacturers to create lab coats made with cooler and lighter materials—but temperature and comfort should never be an excuse not to wear a coat when working around potentially infectious or harmful substances.
“We have lab coats that are very cool and comfortable; if staff complain about the heat, there are disposable coats that are even cooler and are still protective,” says Gylland. “They even come in a multitude of colors if your healthcare system will approve of that purchase.”
Really, when is the last time you took a good look at the shoes your staff are wearing? Chances are you haven’t given it too much thought, but the fact is that healthcare environment is no place for improper footwear.
“Proper shoes are a must because there is always a risk of a spill,” says Gylland. “Accidents are exactly that—something you cannot predict. Your feet need to be protected.”