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Saltwater is corrosive and only constant maintenance keeps it at bay. That's why crewmembers on naval vessels are constantly chipping and painting. It's not just about keeping up appearances - they are looking for the spread of rust or damage that could endanger the vessel.
The best teams manage their blind spots by incorporating as many different perspectives as possible.
The environmental services staff at UHN sweep, wash and disinfect every day, and they often see what others don't. While clinicians are focused on caring for patients, housekeepers help make sure they can do so in a safe environment.
October is Caring Safely Month across UHN.
One of the key elements of Caring Safely, UHN's patient and workplace safety transformation, is embracing safety as a core value. That means everyone across the organization – clinical and non-clinical staff – is committed to improving safety both for one another and the individuals we serve.
That will be accomplished by removing shame and blame from failure, and instead using systems failures as learning opportunities. It's in this way we can move forward together towards our goal of zero preventable harm at UHN.
To mark the month, Carlos Gomes, a member of the environmental services team on Unit 6A at Toronto General Hospital, (TGH) shared a few of the ways he helps make the unit safer for staff and patients.
The bed railings near the patient's legs have a piece of plastic covering two screws. That plastic had fallen off some older bed models, exposing the screws.
"When I'm wiping down the beds I could cut my hand on the screws," says Carlos. "Patients could get their bandages caught on them, and blood is very difficult to get out of the threads."
Since he reported the problem, all affected beds on the unit have been pulled from circulation and repaired.
October is ...
No more needles
The hard plastic sharps bins for disposing of used supplies such as needles sit right next to the garbage can in the unit's medication room.
"Dirty needles were showing up in the garbage can," says Carlos. "They can easily punch through the bag when you're emptying the garbage and puncture your skin.
"We moved the garbage to the other side of the room and the next day it was back beside the sharp bin. That happened a couple of times so we put down red tape on the floor marking the new spot for the garbage bin. Since then it hasn't moved and there haven't been any more needles in the garbage."
Lightening the load
A laundry bag full overfilled with wet soiled sheets, towels and linens can weigh more than 40 pounds. It's too much for a person to lift, and moving the soiled laundry to another bag or cleaning it off the floor if the bag rips is a messy, unpleasant and totally avoidable job.
"Housekeeping and nursing share responsibility for the laundry bags on the unit but they are too heavy for some of the nurses, especially the two pregnant ladies, and I want to help out," says Carlos. "We used to have 20 to 25 laundry carts filled to overflowing every day."
A simple sign took care of the problem. It shows two carts, one overflowing and marked with a red "X," and another one that's ready to be emptied with a green check mark.
Communication is a two-way street
The unit's daily safety huddle has given him a forum to raise his concerns and get them resolved, but Carlos says it's also important for the housekeeping staff to hear about safety concerns from the rest of the team.
"We're always in patients' rooms interacting with them so it's important for us to know when patients are delirious or at risk of falling," says Carlos. "If patients are very nervous we can make sure we are approaching them appropriately depending on their mood."