Keeping Safe at Work When Nursing

Nursing Australia recognises that employees should be able to contribute to the identification and implementation of practical solutions to help maintain a safe working environment. The onus is on everyone to be responsible for safety and to strive to eliminate potential hazards.

1) Dealing with Aggression

Healthcare workers may be exposed to patients, family members or members of the public who display aggressive behaviour. In most cases, healthcare facilities will have well established procedures in place to deal with these situations however there are a few steps that you can follow when responding to this behaviour. •Remain calm – be polite and do not raise your voice.

• Call for assistance – contact another staff member to assist.

• Keep out of reach – it is important to keep your distance (two arms length at minimum)

• Do not antagonise – never abuse or ridicule. Also, let the aggressor leave and do not attempt to detain the person.

• And finally, report the incident to both your supervisor in the workplace and Nursing Australia. It is also important that you complete an incident report.

2) Manual Handling

Manual Handling refers to any activity requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, push, pull, carry or otherwise move or restrain any animate or inanimate object.

Manual handling continues to be a major cause of injuries in the healthcare industry therefore it is important that members follow correct manual handling procedures at all times. Whilst working in a healthcare facility, you should:

1 Ensure that you have had appropriate training in manual handling and that this is updated on a regular basis. If you require training, contact a Nursing Australia representative

2 Use equipment provided including hoists, slide boards and ensure that you report any faulty equipment to your supervisor immediately.

3 Be aware of the client’s safe work procedures in relation to manual handling. These provide step by step instructions on how to perform a task safely.

4 Always check a patient’s care plan, mobility assessments or any other patient specific manual handling plans prior to the transfer to ensure that you are using the correct transfer method.

5 Do not lift outside your capacity and do not be afraid to ask for help.

3) Infection Control

Due to exposure to biological hazards, healthcare workers face a risk of acquiring or spreading infections in the normal course of their work. It is therefore important that appropriate precautions are taken and these include;

1 Ensure that you follow Standard Precautions.

2 Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) appropriate to the task (e.g. gloves, aprons, masks).

3 Ensure appropriate handling and disposal of sharps and other clinical waste. Also, never re-sheath needles.

4 Wash your hands frequently.

5 Ensure contaminated waste is disposed of in line with the client’s waste disposal procedure.

If you sustain a needle stick injury, it is important that you contact your supervisor and a Nursing Australia representative immediately.

4) Managing Fatigue

Given the nature of healthcare, healthcare workers often work long hours through shift work and overtime. Fatigue caused by a lack of sleep and/or physically and mentally demanding tasks, has the potential to impact significantly on an individual’s health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform their duties safely. Fatigue can also compromise clinical care.

The following are tips to help prevent fatigue;

1 Ensure that you have had adequate sleep (7-9 hours daily is recommended for adults).

2 Manage your shifts and workload to ensure that you are not overworked that you have adequate breaks to allow for rest.

3 Take at least a 30 minutes break after 6 hours of work.

4 It is recommended that rostered hours not exceed 48 hours per week.

5 Maintain your health and fitness at a good level.

6 Take care when driving home after a night shift. Consider alternate transport methods.

Nursing Australia takes fatigue management seriously and manages this through shift allocation. It is however the member’s responsibility to advise us if they are working additional shifts with another employer and that actions are taken to manage their workload to prevent fatigue.

5) Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are also a common cause of injuries in the healthcare industry. It is important that hazards leading to slips, trips and falls be identified and removed from the workplace to minimise the risk of injury.

The following are tips to minimise the risk of slips, trips and falls;

1 Wear appropriate non-slip footwear and if provided, wear gum boots when showering patients.

2 Remove any unnecessary materials or equipment in the work area.

3 Always use handrails when walking up and down stairs.

4 Ensure that spills are cleaned up immediately.

5 Don’t rush, particularly when using stairs.

6) Chemical Safety

It is important that care be taken when handling chemicals in the workplace as these may trigger physical reactions such as skin or respiratory tract irritation.

When using chemicals in the workplace, it is important to follow the safety instructions provided. This includes information on the labels as well as the information provided in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). MSDS’ must be made available in the workplace for all hazardous substances. It is important that all members are aware of the location of these.

MSDS’ are important documents as they provide information on the chemical. Importantly they provide information on what controls need to be implemented when using the chemical such as PPE requirements. They also provide information on what to do in the event of exposure.

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About the Author

Joanne Wallace is our resident "Safety Guru". Joanne has provided advice on safety management for the past 10 years and written hundreds of articles on safety issues and tips. Joanne has experience in many industries ranging from manufacturing, food processing, timber milling, retail, office and wholesaling providing her with knowledge and experience managing risk and injuries in these industries.

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