Standard Precautions in Sterile Processing, also known as universal precautions, are of the basics when it comes to the sterile processing department. As important as it is for us to adhere to these precautions we have all seen it at one time or another. A co-worker, vendor, scrub, and so on violate these precautions with disregard for their own safety or that of others. Whether it’s because of carelessness or simply a lack of education, there are several matters in particular that need to be addressed. I believe, and I’m sure most others would agree, that it is paramount we have consistency in order to eliminate cross contamination and possible harm to hospital staff and patients alike.
Proper education is the most effective way to protect personnel working in hazardous areas. It is so very important to provide the education and tools necessary for employees to make informed decisions and take the necessary precautions to protect him or herself from potentially hazardous wastes. There are a lot of great resources out there for professionals working in this type of environment. Here are just a few:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – www.cdc.gov
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) – www.osha.gov
- World Health Organization (WHO) – www.who.int/en
It is also very important that management ensure their staff is using the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Policies vary depending on the facility but generally require:
- Shoe covers
- Impervious gown (and apron)
- Heavy puncture resistant gloves
- Face mask
- Face shield/ goggles
- Hair covering (cap/ bouffant)
No one enjoys wearing all these layers (it can be hot and uncomfortable), but it is of the utmost importance in order to protect one from infectious materials and blood-borne pathogens. So important in fact that I attest to disciplinary action to repeat offenders not donning all of their PPE all of the time. This is for your own protection and that of others.
Education, continued education and the practice of standard precautions among employees in sterile processing are the norms. However, the real issue is when the staff is unfamiliar with Sterile Processing and Decontamination, or when outside vendors and reps enter the department without the proper PPE and begin haphazardly touching contaminated areas.
How many times have you seen a vendor enter the decontamination area without PPE and use the decontamination sinks? More than we would like to admit. We cringe at the sight of them reaching into a sink that was just used to wash a bloody total joint case in. It is all of our responsibility as Sterile Processing Professionals to control traffic in and out of the department and stop someone from potentially putting him or herself at risk.
One really great opportunity for vendors and reps working in sterile processing is the Certified Central Service Vendor Partner (CCSVP) exam and certification provided through IAHCSMM. I highly recommend any outside vendors to get certified and encourage the SPD staff to provide vendors with the information on doing so! Or you can print up a few of the applications and leave them where vendors can see them “hint, hint, wink, wink”.
So how do we police the decontamination area and still get our jobs done with minimal interruptions? Here are just a few great ideas to accomplish just that!
- Provide educational materials to all those who interact with the SPD in any capacity. By doing so you give them no excuse not to know the do’s and don’ts of decontamination.
- SIGNAGE! Probably the most effective solution. How can you ignore a giant yellow caution sign smack dab in the middle of the entry door? There are several premade signs for standard precautions that you can purchase online, like those from www.seton.com. Or you can just as easily create your own and have them printed up and laminated in-house.
- In-service. Although this one will require more work on your part, it is extremely effective. The in-service will provide a play by play demonstration and hands-on interaction, which will allow for a better understanding and retention of the information.
So tell me, what do you think is the best method to ensure the safety of those working in this hazardous environment? I want to hear what you do at your facility to regulate traffic in and out of decontamination and make certain that standard precautions are followed.