Along with nursing and general education courses, nursing students must master a skill that doesn’t often get talked about: how to maintain their personal safety while on the job. Why is workplace safety so important? The reality is that nurses are vulnerable to many health risks while taking care of patients, as this report about nursing safety from Beckers Hospital Review points out. Consider, too, the following 2014 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- It is estimated that each year, more than 1,000 health care workers will contract a serious infection, such as hepatitis B or C virus or HIV, from a needlestick injury.
- On average, hospital workers incur approximately 30 needlestick injuries per 100 beds per year.
- Nursing staff incur the most needlesticks—54 percent of reported needlestick and sharp object injuries involve nurses.
Nurses face other kinds of workplace safety issues as well. Patient and family assaults on health care workers are becoming more common. Nurses may be injured when handling and moving patients, and especially when they try to lift someone.
How can infections and injuries be avoided? At St. Vincent’s, we devote classroom and clinical time to teaching students the best practices for staying safe on the job. We believe that nurses must be mindful of their patients’ health and safety as well as their own. This mindfulness will help to provide a sense of safety, respect, and empowerment to everyone in a healthcare setting.
We focus on teaching safe and effective care in these specific areas:
- Safe Patient Handling and Mobility
- Sharps Safety
- Violence against healthcare workers (HCWs)
Some care facilities may not have safe handling programs. The lack of safe handling skills –and safe lifting equipment—is harmful to nurses, obviously, but it's also detrimental to the profession. Many injured nurses leave the field forever. Fortunately, recent research from the American Nurses Association shows that teaching nursing students about the use of safe lifting equipment positively affects the likelihood that care facilities will adopt safe lifting programs, reducing both workplace injuries and employee turnover.
At St. Vincent’s, we teach student nurses techniques and evidence-based practices for preventing musculoskeletal injuries. These include:
- The correct use of patient handling equipment/devices
- No-lift policies (in situations where safe handling equipment is readily available)
- The proper use of patient lift teams
Preventing needlestick injuries
Our goal at St. Vincent’s is to give student nurses the skills needed to prevent needlestick injuries and the risk of infection following an injury. Students are taught the theory and practice of using safe-needle devices beginning in their first class. Safe-needle devices have integrated safety features designed into the product to prevent needlestick injuries. But the term “safe-needle device” is broad and includes many different devices, such as those with a protective shield over the needle as well as devices that are completely needle-free.
Passive devices offer the greatest protection because the safety feature is automatically triggered after use. The healthcare worker doesn’t have to take any additional steps. An example of a passive device is a spring-loaded retractable syringe or a self-blunting blood collection device. Only safe-needle devices are utilized in the skills and simulation labs at St. Vincent’s, providing students with the most up-to-date and evidence-based education. Students not only practice safely but also understand the reason for their practice.
Managing aggressive patients
Experts have identified several possible reasons for the increase in assaults on healthcare workers: understaffing (especially during times of increased activity such as meal times); poor workplace security; unrestricted movement by the public around the facility; and the challenges around transporting patients. Increased risk is also associated with situations in which administrators regard assaults as part of the job, a high patient-to-personnel ratio, working primarily with mental health patients, and working with patients who have long hospital stays.
At St Vincent’s, we teach our nursing students how to manage aggressive patients in their first foundational nursing course. At the end of this course, students show a significant improvement in their knowledge, confidence, and safety skills. In addition, extensive learning experiences are provided as part of the Psychiatric/Neurology Nursing course in the second year of the program. Nursing students participate in clinical learning experiences in mental healthcare facilities, both inpatient and outpatient, and in behavioral health emergency centers. Students are prepared, prior to attending clinical experiences, with the knowledge and skills to safely complete their assignment.
Until recently, healthcare facilities have promoted patient safety as a priority, but it is important to improve nurses’ safety as well—for the sake of the nurse as well as the patient. After all, when a nurse sustains a musculoskeletal injury, this can in turn adversely impact patient care. But consider, too, that the World Health Organization defines a healthy environment not only as a place where there are no real or perceived threats, but also as a place of “physical, mental, and social well-being,” supporting optimal health and safety. In the long run, we hope that the safety education we provide to nursing students will lead to a culture of workplace safety—a culture in which leaders, managers, nurses, and ancillary staff all have a responsibility to perform with a sense of professionalism and responsibility.
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