Top 10 Hidden Infection Prevention Dangers and How to Fix Them (Conclusion)

Top 10 Hidden Infection Prevention Dangers and How to Fix Them

TACOMA, Wash. — Have you looked into the investigation report of a plane crash? 

Typically, such reports uncover a complex interplay of mechanical and human factors rather than a solitary cause. Most reveal a convergence of system failures and pilot errors, despite modern aircraft being engineered with numerous safety redundancies. 

Crashes, though rare, underscore the importance of constant vigilance.

Now, let’s contemplate the rigorous process of ensuring the cleanliness of healthcare linens, like a simple 10-cent washcloth. While seemingly distant from safely navigating a multimillion-dollar passenger airplane, parallels emerge on closer examination. 

Just as in aviation, where any lapse can lead to dire consequences, a single misstep in the linen production process can result in severe infections for patients. 

Both industries share a common imperative: the pursuit of perfection in every action to safeguard lives and well-being.

Consider the potential pitfalls along this journey. For instance, improper containment of a washcloth post-patient use at the hospital could contaminate surfaces, risking healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). 

Similarly, if washed with the wrong formula or handled by an employee with food spills on their uniform, contamination persists, endangering patients. 

Each oversight amplifies infection risk for hospital patients, emphasizing the critical importance of meticulous hygiene throughout the linen handling process.

We’ve merely scratched the surface; the potential for contamination on this journey is vast. 

Let’s explore deeper the top 10 infection prevention risks in a healthcare laundry and how to fix them. We end the series with the last three hidden dangers on the list.

When stepping into a healthcare laundry, observe the large-piece feeding stations and ironer feeding stations closely. Note the large pieces like sheets and blankets as they enter the feeders; often, they may be seen dragging on the floor. 

In any environment, clean healthcare textiles should never touch the floor; if they do, it’s a clear indication that immediate action is needed to prevent contamination, necessitating a detour back to the washers.

Despite meticulous cleaning schedules and processes, maintaining a hygienically clean floor in a healthcare laundry, even on the clean side, remains challenging. 

Impurities hitch a ride on dirty shoes, cart wheels, and ever-moving bins, while contaminants from the air also pose a risk.

To mitigate this risk:

  • Dig a trench deep enough to prevent linen from dragging on the floor in front of all feeders. Ensure it’s large enough to catch all dangling linen and implement policies for regular disinfection, acknowledging the cost and safety considerations.
  • Install cleanable plates at the front of all feeding equipment, made of non-porous materials like stainless steel or rigid polypropylene plastic. Operators must wear clean booties and adhere to a schedule for regular cleaning and disinfection of the plates.
  • Place clean sheets or blankets over the floor where linens may dangle, ensuring they maintain their cleanliness. Operators should wear clean booties and protective pieces must be changed regularly during shifts, although this solution incurs additional costs.

Supervisors play a crucial role in ensuring these measures are implemented and followed diligently, maintaining a hygienic environment and preventing contamination risks in the healthcare laundry.

Before founding my current company, I owned and operated a large full-service accredited healthcare laundry for 17 years. 

As part of our process monitoring protocol, we tested linens for contamination at various steps in the laundering process. On one occasion, the linens ready to be sent to customers kept testing positive for contamination. 

We checked the washers and wash formulas. All were okay. 

We checked the dryers for contamination. All okay. 

We checked the clean carts and tables for contamination that could be touching the linen. All okay. But the linen kept testing positive for contamination. What the heck was causing this? 

One of our brilliant engineers suggested that we test the uniform of the operator moving the linens from the clean linen bin to the table. Bingo! His uniform was dirty, and he was contaminating the linens while moving clean linens to the table.

Prompted by this revelation, we pondered the many scenarios where employee-contaminated uniforms might unwittingly compromise linen cleanliness. 

Consider the routine brushing of clean linen against uniforms or operators guiding towels into folders, inevitable contact with clothing ensues.

Extend this to handling larger pieces like sheets fed into ironers. Linens inevitably brush against operators’ uniforms during these tasks, as evidenced in videos.

Now, envision employees stacking clean linen onto shelves or carts. It’s undeniable—sleeves or bodies will inevitably touch the linen.

These realizations necessitate a critical examination of hygiene practices across settings. It’s not just about the linens’ journey but also the unseen interactions with employee uniforms that could compromise healthcare facility standards.

Faced with this challenge, we considered two approaches:

  1. Preventing any contact between employee uniforms and clean linen, which was impractical and challenging to enforce. 
  2. Ensuring employee uniforms are consistently hygienically clean, even if contact occurs. This pragmatic approach resonated, guiding our decision.

Below are some practices to maintain hygienically clean uniforms while handling clean linen:

  • Provide employees with clean scrubs before their duties.
  • Mandate uniform changes or covering during breaks or transitions.
  • Encourage prompt uniform changes if contamination is suspected.
  • Implement regular testing of staff uniforms for contamination.

These practices, in both laundry and healthcare settings, uphold cleanliness standards and safeguard linens.

It sounds obvious but just like in a hospital setting, inadequate hand hygiene among healthcare laundry workers in the laundry is a major risk for the transmission of infections. 

The laundry process involves handling linens and garments contaminated with various pathogens, making the risk of cross-contamination and infection transmission exceptionally high. 

Dirty hands pose a significant threat to the integrity of healthcare linen, patient safety and overall public health.

Training employees in proper hand hygiene practices is a foundational element of a robust infection control strategy in the laundry. 

Staff should be educated on the correct techniques for handwashing, the importance of using soap and water or hand sanitizers, and the necessity of thorough drying. 

Regular training sessions and updates ensure that all employees stay informed about the latest guidelines and best practices in hand hygiene. Make sure to document the training. 

Also, signage should be visible throughout the plant emphasizing the importance of hand hygiene.

Verification of hand hygiene compliance is equally crucial. As we say, “If it is not documented, it did not happen.” 

Implementing a system to monitor and document handwashing practices will help ensure that employees consistently adhere to established protocols. 

Techniques such as direct observation, electronic monitoring systems, measuring hand soap/sanitizer usage, and periodic audits can be employed to verify that staff members are consistently practicing proper hand hygiene.

As we dive deeper into the complexities of healthcare linen management, it becomes clear that familiarity with the top 10 infection prevention dangers is essential for those tasked with overseeing these processes. 

By recognizing and addressing these common risks, stakeholders can work toward ensuring the integrity and safety of healthcare linens, thereby safeguarding the well-being of patients and healthcare workers alike. 

In a world where even the seemingly mundane can pose significant risks, diligence and vigilance are paramount in maintaining safety and preventing adverse outcomes.                

Read about hidden infection dangers numbers one through four HERE, and find five through seven by clicking HERE.

TACOMA, Wash. — Last three areas of infection concern for healthcare laundries

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