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Key health and safety tips for nursing

These health and safety tips provide general information on ways to manage the most common hazards and risks in your industry. By following this guidance you will be going a long way to effectively managing health and safety in your workplace. However, every workplace is different and you must not take this information as being all that you need to do.

Biological hazards
Cytotoxic drugs and related waste
Emergency preparedness and response
Hazardous substances
Ionising radiation
Latex allergy
Manual tasks
Occupational stress
Occupational violence
Personal Protective Equipment
Slips, trips and falls

Activities/instructions More information

  • Make your work and workplace safe by:
    • finding what is safe or unhealthy in your workplace
    • deciding what is the highest risk, what needs to be fixed first and how to go about fixing it.
    • taking action to fix the unsafe or unhealthy workplace problems
    • checking the problems are fixed and won't happen again
    • having a site-specific health and safety induction
    • having specific training to do work safely
    • making sure personal protective equipment (PPE) is used where provided.

    Remember, everyone is responsible for workplace health and safety.

Biological hazards
Activities/instructions More information

  • Implement an occupational immunisation program (refer to the current edition of the Australian Immunisation Handbook).
  • Adopt standard precautions for all contact with blood and body fluids including hand hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPE), appropriate handling and disposal of clinical waste including sharps, environmental cleaning, spills management, appropriate reprocessing of reusable equipment and laundry management.
  • Adopt transmission based additional precautions where infection risks cannot be managed by standard precautions alone.
  • Provide adequate hand hygiene amenities including hand washing basins and alcohol hand rubs.
  • Train workers in infection control practices.
  • Inform workers about infectious diseases that pose additional risks for pregnant workers.
  • Develop safe systems of work for the handling, use and disposal of sharps.
  • Use sharps with integrated safety devices, e.g. retractable needles.
  • Instruct workers to use scalpel blade removal devices to remove scalpel blades.
  • Locate sharps containers as close as possible to the area where sharps are used.
  • Develop protocols for managing inadvertent needle stick injuries and blood and body fluid exposures.
Cytotoxic drugs and related waste
Activities/instructions More information

  • Identify all locations and activities where cytotoxic drug hazards exist e.g. drug preparation in pharmacy, drug administration in patient care areas, laundry management in patient care areas and the laundry facility, stores waste disposal, cleaning and maintenance activities.
  • Assess workers' risk of exposure to cytotoxic drugs that are used or are to be used at the workplace, taking into consideration environmental conditions that may increase the likelihood of an exposure, skills and experience of workers and the effectiveness of existing control measures.
  • Implement control measures to prevent or manage workers' exposure to cytotoxic drugs, e.g. make sure drugs are pharmacy supplied, use of needleless and luer-lock systems for drug administration, provision of approved containers for sharps disposal, cytotoxic waste and cytotoxic contaminated linen, provision of information and training, and appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Develop and document Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the safe handling of cytotoxic drugs and related waste.
  • Provide training and instruction for workers and others in relation to these SOPs.
  • Provide adequate supervision to verify that the SOPs are being used correctly.
  • Maintain SOPs to ensure their ongoing effectiveness.
Emergency preparedness and response
Activities/instructions More information

  • Make sure fire extinguishers are available and testing is current.
  • Make sure an emergency plan is available covering a range of emergencies such as fire and chemical spills.
  • Brief workers on emergency evacuation plan.
Activities/instructions More information

  • Maintain equipment in good condition.
  • Repair or dispose of equipment that is damaged or no longer safe to use.
  • Use equipment only for intended purpose.
  • Make sure shelving is secure and not overloaded.
  • Ensure equipment such as televisions are secure and will not topple over.
  • Make sure guards (where fitted) are in place when equipment is in use.
Activities/instructions More information

  • Where rostering is used -
    • make sure the roster provides for a continuous 7 to 8 hours sleep in each 24 hours, and at least 50 hours sleep for every seven days
    • limit number of consecutive night shifts to four
    • use forward shift rotation.
  • Make sure there are sufficient numbers of workers to cover for sick and annual leave.
  • Plan for overtime so that workers can schedule their activities around it.
  • Employ job rotation for repetitive tasks or work that involves heavy physical demands.
  • Have contingency plans in place to allow for removing fatigued workers from work activities where there is a considerable risk to health or safety.
  • Limit shift work to core duties that must be completed at night.
  • Redesign work practices so that routine administrative tasks are minimised for night shift workers.
  • Schedule low risk work during periods of high fatigue.
  • Schedule complex tasks to be performed only during the day.
  • Instruct workers about the effects of fatigue and ways to minimise it.
  • Workers should plan their social activities and make sure they have sufficient sleep in order to do their job safely.
Activities/instructions More information

  • Consider substituting glutaraldehyde with alternative products (e.g. OPA). (Note that alternative products may also cause adverse health effects.)
  • Use glutaraldehyde within an enclosed system, e.g. an automated endoscope disinfector.
  • Install appropriate ventilation controls, e.g. install local exhaust ventilation over endoscope soaking containers.
  • Use glutaraldehyde in a dedicated area that is separate from clinical care areas or thoroughfares.
  • Develop procedures for the safe use of glutaraldehyde and instruct workers in their use.
  • Provide and instruct workers to wear appropriate PPE to prevent dermal and respiratory exposure and facial splashes.
  • Conduct glutaraldehyde monitoring.
  • Provide a glutaraldehyde spills kit and instruct workers in its use.
  • Implement and follow systems for reporting the development of adverse health effects that may be related to glutaraldehyde exposure.
Hazardous substances
Activities/instructions More information

  • Make sure drug preparation is undertaken by authorised persons in purpose-built rooms.
  • Make sure Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available for substances classified as hazardous.
  • Read the label and MSDS and follow relevant instructions.
  • Conduct risk assessments to minimise exposure to workers.
  • Store hazardous substances safely and securely when not in use.
  • Train workers in safe handling of hazardous substances.
  • Label hazardous substances (including safety and risk phrases).
  • Do not store hazardous substances in food and/or drink containers.
  • Store flammable and combustible liquids away from ignition sources.
  • Identify hazardous substances that pose additional risks to pregnant workers and control the risk of exposure (e.g. anaesthetic gases; cytotoxic drugs).
Ionising radiation
Activities/instructions More information

  • Contact Radiation Health Unit for information about managing the risks associated with ionising radiation.
  • All forms of ionising radiation and radiating apparatus must be licensed under the Radiation Safety Act 1999.


Latex allergy
Activities/instructions More information

  • Identify all products at the workplace which contain latex.
  • Use non-latex gloves for activities that do not involve a risk of infection, e.g. food handling, routine housekeeping.
  • Do not use powdered latex gloves.
  • Substitute powered latex gloves with lower risk products e.g. low protein, powder-free latex gloves or vinyl, nitrile or neoprene gloves.
  • Instruct workers to wash their hands with soap and water after glove removal.
  • Replace oil-based hand care products with water-based products, as oil-based products can cause latex deterioration and leaching of latex proteins.
  • Redesign tasks so that latex gloves are not required to be worn for prolonged periods.
  • Provide workers with information about latex allergy and appropriate control measures such as hand washing and reporting signs of latex allergy.
  • Identify workers who have latex allergy or who are at increased risk of developing latex allergy.
  • Make sure workers who develop signs and symptoms of latex allergy receive prompt medical referral.
  • Seek specialist advice on glove selection for workers who have a latex sensitivity.
  • If a worker is at risk of anaphylaxis and requires emergency medication (such as an Epi Pen), make sure key people are trained in its use.
  • If a worker is diagnosed with an immediate allergic reaction, review the working environment to ensure that it is latex-safe and seek specialist advice as needed.
  • Make sure the work areas that may be contaminated by latex dust are cleaned regularly.
Manual tasks
Activities/instructions More information

  • For work involving hard physical effort:
    • organise work to reduce the physical force needed to lift, carry, move, hold or restrain items, such as positioning items as close as possible to where work is done
    • provide, use and maintain adequate equipment and assistive devices, such as trolleys and hoists - both free standing and overhead tracking hoists, and wheelchairs, to minimise effort
    • train workers in safe use of equipment/devices, where provided
    • make sure flooring does not impede the use of wheeled equipment.
  • For work involving awkward working positions, workers should:
    • work in the straightest forward facing position
    • work with their arms close to their body, not reaching away or overhead
    • vary their position frequently, don't stand, sit, kneel or squat for long periods
    • minimise bending and over reaching by, for example, adjusting working platforms (such as beds) for different working heights, storing frequently used items between hip and shoulder height, and providing adult sized chairs and tables for workers in children's areas.
  • For work that is highly repetitive or involves tasks of long duration, workers should:
    • take regular breaks
    • work at a slower pace for tasks repeated frequently or done for long periods
    • vary work duties or working positions, for example, alternate between standing and sitting activities
    • change work practices or obtain equipment to avoid repetitive actions or prolonged tasks.
  • Make sure workers have received clear instructions and have been trained to safely perform the task, including safe people handling.
Occupational stress
Activities/instructions More information

  • Assign appropriate amounts of work to workers.
  • Monitor work demands and control over work.
  • Provide support systems for talking about difficult situations at work.
  • Provide clear work structures, particularly through times of change.
  • Provide recognition and reward to workers.
Occupational violence
Activities/instructions More information

  • Use design or engineering measures to change the physical characteristics of the workplace to reduce the risk, for example, widen service desks, separate emergency and non-emergency 'processing' of patients, install barriers, enhance visibility and install security devices (such as security passes).
  • Change the systems of work or work practices to help reduce risks. For example:
    • increase the efficiency of services provided at peak times to reduce client frustration
    • limit the quantity of valuables (e.g. cash, drugs) stored at the workplace
    • train workers in aggressive behaviour management including the recognition and diffusion of potentially volatile situations
    • ensure sufficient number of appropriately trained workers
    • provide for emergency communication
    • encourage workers to report incidents of occupational violence and act on these
    • advise workers of identified risks and control measures.
  • Provide and instruct workers to use PPE appropriate to the level of risk.
  • Put control measures in place to manage any specific risks associated with individuals with challenging behaviours.
  • Implement adequate hand-over practices.
Personal Protective Equipment
Activities/instructions More information

  • Provide and instruct workers to use PPE where identified through risk assessment, company policy or manufacturers' instructions, e.g. use of latex gloves.
  • Provide respiratory protective equipment within the context of a respiratory protection program that includes instruction on respirator use, fit checking and fit testing.
Slips, trips and falls
Activities/instructions More information

  • Make sure contaminants and spills on the floor are cleaned up or removed promptly.
  • Use slip-resistant flooring in areas likely to become wet or contaminated.
  • Ensure regular and adequate cleaning of floors.
  • Make sure working areas are kept clear and tidy.
  • Maintain floor surfaces in a good order (e.g. free from holes, curled carpet edges etc).
  • Make sure walkways are adequately lit and clear of clutter.
  • Consider the physical characteristics of people and the activity being undertaken.
  • Make sure footwear is suitable for the type of work and work environment.

Last updated 26 March 2012