March 10, 2020

Safety in Dental Offices: The Role of the Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists wear many hats during their workday, but one of their most important responsibilities relates to preventing the spread of infection. Hygienists must be vigilant when following infection control strategies to avoid exchanging cold and flu viruses, harmful bacteria or dangerous bloodborne pathogens. Here are four ways these pivotal employees can safeguard their workplace.

Be thorough about handwashing and PPE. Proper hand hygiene and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment like gloves or surgical masks are the best ways to prevent transmission of infection. According to a Stericycle survey of dental professionals, 47% believe that unsanitary tools in the office pose the biggest safety risk, while another 17% believe that lack of proper use of PPE poses the largest risk. Hygienists can lead the way in promoting safety by consistently following best practice protocols, making sure disinfecting and antiseptic agents are always available, and gently reminding colleagues to practice proper hand hygiene.  

Properly dispose of sharps. When dental providers use needles and syringes to deliver medications, they should be careful about how they dispose of these instruments. Safe handling procedures, along with specially designed waste receptacles, can limit needlestick injuries that can spread bloodborne pathogens. Sharps containers should be puncture-resistant, leak-proof, designed to prevent overfilling and located where the sharps are being generated.

Hygienists should also ensure correct disposal of other regulated medical waste, such as gauzes and procedural drapes that are saturated with blood, which can harbor harmful pathogens. For proper disposal of these infectious materials, color-coded or labeled biohazardous waste bags are required.

Ensure to follow workplace policies and procedures. Safety plans required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are essential in minimizing workplace risks. These safety plans, including an exposure control plan, written hazard communication program, and emergency preparedness plan to name a few, are key in protecting dental professionals from the hazards in their workplace. Additionally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that all HIPAA-Covered Entities perform a risk assessment, develop and maintain policies designed to protect patient’s protected health information (PHI) and provide ongoing training for employees, among other requirements.

Actively participate in training. Comprehensive training can go a long way toward consistent compliance with the aforementioned recommendations. OSHA requires dental practices to provide thorough orientation and refresher training on various topics, and yet, some practices don’t always practice proper staff education. According to a recent survey of dental professionals by Stericycle, only 60% and 64% of respondents have had OSHA and HIPAA training, respectively, within the last 6 months. Part of the reason could be that dental practices lack the resources to provide detailed education.

Fortunately, there are online training modules, such as those offered by Stericycle, that allow organizations to effectively and efficiently meet OSHA and HIPAA training requirements. These easy-to-use tools are available 24/7/365, so staff can complete them at their convenience. The modules also document that training has been completed for situations where the practice must prove that education occurred.

Stericycle can help dental practices ensure a safe workplace. For more information on the services we offer and how they can help you, go to Steri-Safe Compliance Solutions.

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