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Archive Staff & Patient Safety 2019

How Safe Is Your Sterile Processing Department?

Protect your reprocessing team from these 5 injury risks.

Jared Bilski

BIO

EASY ACCESS
EASY ACCESS To prevent strain injuries, make sure heavy instruments and supplies are stored between the waist and thigh area, so staff members don't have to reach above their shoulders or bend low to the ground.

Sterile processing techs are the unsung heroes of your facility, playing an invaluable role in patient safety by sending load after load of sterilized instruments back to the ORs. But are you doing enough to keep them safe? Between handling contaminated devices, working with strong chemicals, lifting heavy instrument sets, pushing heavy carts and the repetitive motion of work tasks, sterile processing techs are vulnerable to injury by the very nature of the job. But there’s another factor at work, as well.

“There’s the already high potential for injury coupled with the fact that there’s an almost constant pressure for quick turnaround,” says Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL, FCS, the education director for the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) in Chicago, Ill. “And that pressure definitely adds to the risk for injury.”

In addition to creating a culture where sterile processing techs don’t feel the need to put turnaround times ahead of their own well-being, you should focus on the areas where injuries are most likely to occur and put stronger safety protocols in place.

1. Safe lifting

EXTRA PADDING
NOT OPTIONAL Make it clear to sterile processing staff members that proper PPE must be worn at all times.

In June 2017 at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, according to a workplace injury report (osha.gov/severeinjury) from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a worker was pushing a loaded instrument cart into an autoclave when the cart’s movable legs became unlocked, causing it to fall and strike the worker, who suffered a broken tibia. Automatic loaders now let staff load instruments easily and safely into sterilizers and washers, removing most of the risk from the process.

However, there’s no way to avoid all of the strenuous lifting sterile processing techs must do to pick case carts and move instrument trays. You must go beyond reminding techs to bend at the knees and avoid lifting heavy instruments and supplies with their backs. Avoiding lifting-related injuries demands setting your staff up for success, particularly when it comes to heavier items.

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