Hospital administrators, custodians, cooks, aides, nurses, and doctors work in a challenging environment. Hospitals operate 24/7, on weekends and holidays, and must be ready at any time of the day or night for emergency situations. And workers must also be on guard for injury and illness exposures such as sprains and strains, communicable and bloodborne diseases, sharps punctures, chemical use, stress, and workplace violence. Learn about these hazards, get training, and use safe work practices.

Sick people visit the hospital or stay in a bed. They may have transmittable germs, toxic medications, or bloodborne pathogens that could harm healthy visitors and workers. Practice good housekeeping by decontaminating surfaces and equipment after use. Wear gloves and protective clothing such as a uniform, smock, or lab coat. Cover open wounds while at work.

Wash your hands frequently on the job. Do not touch your face, nose, or eyes while on the job. Change your clothes and shoes and shower before you leave work. Get medical screening, including an annual tuberculosis (TB) test, to monitor for potential exposures on the job.

To prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens like HIV or Hepatitis B or C, practice universal precautions when dealing with patients. Avoid sharps punctures and blood and bodily fluid splashes to the eyes, mouth, nose, and broken skin by wearing splash goggles or face shields. Use safe work practices with soiled linens, wound dressings, or medical waste to prevent accidental exposure. Double bag and safely store medical waste. Keep needles and sharps such as knives, blades, and razors in sturdy, puncture-resistant containers.

If you have a workplace exposure, report it and get medical treatment immediately. There is no vaccination available for HIV or Hepatitis C, so avoiding exposure is the best prevention. Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B which can be transmitted through blood splashes and sharps sticks.

Chemicals used for cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing agents can affect the skin, mucous membranes, and respiratory system. Anesthetic gases, chemotherapeutic and hormone drugs, and radiation exposures can adversely affect your health. Use materials in the correct mixture strengths and doses and in well-ventilated areas to avoid breathing in concentrated fumes.

Ergonomic injuries are frequent in hospitals, so see the State Fund topic, “Handling Patients Safely” for tips. Hospital workers may work long shifts, stand at work stations for long hours, and walk a lot. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes at work. Anti-fatigue mats reduce the strain from standing.

Service to at-risk populations and people in stressful health crises can lead to workplace violence. Secure the building by keeping side doors and windows closed and locked. Control access to the building. Maintain a security presence through cameras, viewing windows, and personnel. Get training in customer service and handling behavioral crises. Know emergency procedures and alarm systems, and practice response drills.

Shift-work and staffing level challenges stress hospital workers. Exposure to severely injured patients and personal crises can take a toll. Maintain your fitness, eat right, and get enough rest to help your body cope. Talk with your supervisor about prioritizing and managing your job tasks. After emergency incidents, conduct group counseling and debriefing sessions.