by Luisa van der Linde
As a health practitioner, your own safety and the wellbeing of your own employers remain a top priority at your practice. It involves much more than a sign behind the bathroom door with a pretty picture that says: “Please wash your hands.”
To quantify safety at the workplace is very difficult, because certain regulations depend on the specific practice’s unique circumstances.
The number of staff you have, types of patients who visit the practice and infrastructure will also have an influence on how safety guidelines and regulations will be applied.
THE OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT
As an employer, you should be aware of the requirements contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and under no circumstances may you allow your employees to do unsafe tasks. An employee cannot simply climb on a high ladder and wash the ceiling. You as employer can be held accountable if the person should fall and get hurt.
APPLICATION OF THE ACT
The Health Standards Compliance Office is an independent body established under the National Health Amendment Act of 2013 to ensure that both private and public health practices in South Africa meet the requirements of the Act.
This body, established by the change in the National Health Act, aims to protect users from health services.
Health services covered by this law include all private and public institutions that work directly with patients.
Individual health practitioners are still regulated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), the South African Nurses’ Union, the South African Pharmacy Council and other professional bodies. The Health Standards Compliance Office will continue to work in synergy with these bodies to achieve common goals.
IDENTIFY POSSIBLE RISKS
Health services are complex and clinical care, clinical support and good management are interdependent.
Essential health and safety measures include that you, as employer, properly train the employees and that you know, yourself what standards your practice should meet.
There should also be an effective health programme that includes precautions and as a health practitioner you need to know what to do if an employee is inadvertently exposed to a material or fluid that may affects his/her health.
Employees who handle waste materials may contract viral Hepatitis B infections. Remember to vaccinate all employees who handle waste material. Tetanus injections are also recommended for anyone who comes in contact with waste materials.
There must always be a clear distinction between different types of waste material. Mark the separate containers clearly so that no confusion arises.
When any potentially harmful substances such as body fluids are cleaned, your employees must wear an apron, gloves and a mask to prevent it from splashing in their face.
Take special precaution when transporting supplies to and from your practice, so that the samples are not contaminated, or employees are not exposed to bodily fluids. It is also extremely important to know which substances should be transported cold and which at room temperature.
Check the practice’s fire extinguishers regularly to ensure that it is in a working order. Also make sure that the electrical wiring is in a good condition. Make sure you have a proper evacuation plan in place for emergencies, such as the danger of fire or danger from outside. Run through it with your employees often.
Every new employee at the health care practice must complete a first aid course at the start of service.
Basic hygiene measures are non-negotiable. Ensure that there is enough soap and toilet paper in the bathroom. Make sure that your employees know the importance of washing their hands and that they are doing it. Encourage sick employees to stay at home rather than coming to work and causing your colleagues to become sick.
Check your practice’s ventilation. Too little fresh air in the workplace can increase your employees’ chances of getting sick. Headaches, sinus infections, nausea and asthma can influence productivity negatively. Little light and air can also reduce employees’ concentration levels. Remember to service the air conditioner regularly.
Your consultation room does not have to necessarily have a lock if you have thick enough curtains to protect the patient’s privacy. It has happened in the past that an aggressive patient kept a doctor locked in his own consultation room. Instead, install a safety door between the waiting area and the rest of the practice, which can be closed quickly if danger from outside threatens.
Ensure that the standard yellow warning signs are placed on either side of a wet surface if the floors are washed in the practice.
CONCLUSION: TEAMWORK IS IMPORTANT
Remember, the applying safety in the workplace remains a team effort. As health practitioner it is your responsibility to give guidance to ensure that all the employees at your practice knows what is expected of them in this regard. Proper application of safety measures can contribute to each and every one of the practice’s employee’s job satisfaction and self-pride.