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Findings from a survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show that healthcare workers do not always take precautionary measures to minimize exposure to high-level disinfectants (HLDs).

The recent release is one of a series of reports detailing results from the 2011 Health, and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers, the largest federally-sponsored survey of healthcare workers in the U.S. Respondents included those who chemically disinfect medical or dental devices using one or more of the following HLDs during the past week:

  • glutaraldehyde
  • orthophthaldehyde (OPA)
  • peracetic acid
  • and/or hydrogen peroxide

Information on various exposure controls and impediments to using personal protective equipment (PPE) were assessed. Findings suggest that healthcare workers do not always use recommended practices. The following describes examples of what may increase exposure risk:

  • 17% never received training on the safe handling of HLDs.
  • 19% reported that safe handling procedures were unavailable.
  • 44% did not always wear a water-resistant gown or outer garment.
  • 9% did not always wear protective gloves.
  • ‘Exposure was minimal’ was the most frequently reported reason for not wearing PPE.
  • 12% indicated skin contact with HLDs during the past week.
  • Workers reporting skin contact were four times more likely to report not always wearing protective gloves.

When workers do not follow practices when handling HLDs, they are at risk of exposure. Ensuring the utilization of proper precautionary measures requires diligence on the part of both employers and healthcare workers. Employers who provide a safety culture that demonstrates a strong commitment to health and safety of their workers ensure that adequate resources and safety equipment are available..

Yes, workers should seek out training, understand and follow safety procedures, and feel free to report any safety concerns. In order to do this, leadership must set that expectation and provide the support needed to develop this culture of safety excellence.

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