Healthcare Workers May Be Risking Their Lives Not Using PPE

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Utah have found in a new study that healthcare workers may be contaminating themselves and their work environments by neglecting to use personal protective equipment and follow preventive protocol.

Researchers conducted 325 observations of healthcare workers over a nine-month period, charting behaviors inside and outside patient rooms.

The observations showed 283 offenses that were capable of triggering self-contamination or transmission of infectious agents.

These were:

  • 102 violations categorized as neglecting to follow standard interaction protocol. Many were related to failure to use PPE such as gowns, gloves, and masks. Violations were observed when workers interacted with patients’ families, checked devices or delivered supplies to patient rooms;
  • 144 violations categorized as errors in process or procedure. Examples included removing gowns in an improper sequence, touching gloved hands to ID badges to access in-room computers and using gloved hands to gather medications or supplies from coat pockets; and
  • 37 violations categorized as inadvertent responsive behaviors. Examples included using a gloved hand to touch one’s face or using a personal device.

According to NIOSH, healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, employing over 18 million workers. An estimated 17-57 employed HCWs per million die annually from occupational infections and injuries, and 9-42 HCWs per million die per year exclusively from occupational infections.

In addition to the Bloodborne Pathogens Rule published by OSHA, organizations such as the CDC have promoted guidelines for HCW protection, recommending vaccination, early patient screening, isolation precautions, and the use of PPE.