Infection Control in Healthcare: Vital Steps for Contractors

In this article, Chris Murphy, Head of Operations for leading national maintenance and construction contractor Novus Property Solutions, talks through the essential matter of infection control within the healthcare sector. With both the client and end-user in mind, he outlines the key considerations when it comes to carrying out work in live environments to ensure compliance in infection prevention.

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The healthcare sector presents contractors with a unique set of challenges and considerations when it comes to planning works, and a highly comprehensive site induction is always essential. Carrying out build or maintenance works within healthcare settings usually comes with high client expectations, tight timescales and more contractor visibility.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that healthcare buildings such as hospitals are most likely to be used by vulnerable people – meaning that infection control is an essential consideration. And while it’s vital that steps are taken to control the spread of infection across all sectors, particularly in the age of COVID-19, the emphasis on infection prevention and control should be at the top of contractors’ agendas when it comes to carrying out work in the healthcare sector.

A unique environment

Carrying out build and maintenance works in healthcare settings means contractors are working in a live environment, which presents its own unique considerations.

With most hospitals operating on a 24-hour, 365-day schedule, any works being carried out within these spaces will by nature impact the day-to-day running of departments and wards. It’s, therefore, crucial for contractors like Novus to work to minimise this impact through extensive planning, and by carrying out works with both flexibility and compassion.

Infection control in healthcare settings

As working in these live environments means contractors are more likely to be visible and also potentially come into contact with staff and patients, planning and implementing infection control measures is vital. Not only does this provide protection for the building and maintenance staff, but it is essential for patients who may be especially vulnerable to infection.

There are several steps that contractors can take to minimise the risk of infection while working in a healthcare setting such as a hospital where outbreaks of infection can not only spread quickly and easily, but can cause severe issues for users.

Minimising dust

While there are limited actions that can be taken to prevent construction activity creating dust, contractors should take steps to ensure that levels are kept as low as possible. Regular housekeeping is imperative in preventing excess dust which can become airborne, and particularly in preventing this from spreading outside the immediate construction area – especially into adjacent patient care areas.

Fortunately, there are several control measures that contractors can implement to minimise dust and to prevent it travelling outside of the construction zone. One of the simplest ways to do this is to restrict access to spaces where dust is being produced through construction or maintenance work to essential staff only; as well as redirecting construction traffic away from patient areas where possible.

Other physical prevention measures are also available, and contractors must consider the use of airtight plastic and drywall barriers, negative-pressure ventilation in the construction area, dust suppression through the use of water, and covering all air intake and exhaust vents in the construction zone to prevent contaminated air from entering the hospital’s heating and air conditioning systems.

Waste disposal

Dust and other debris caused by construction works must be disposed of frequently and safely as a way of preventing the spread of infection. It’s important that contractors do not allow any waste materials to build up – not just for safety reasons such as the prevention of physical hazards on site, but also as a way of reducing the chances of infection spreading.

Safely disposing of construction waste should involve regularly removing debris from work zones in sealed containers, or as a minimum, covering it with a damp cloth to stop it from becoming airborne.

As healthcare settings are round-the-clock environments, contractors may need to arrange specific waste management schedules, as well as other logistics such as delivery of materials, with the client to ensure this is done with minimal risk to service users, in accordance with infection control measures. This may involve carrying out the removal of waste materials out-of-hours in order to avoid regular hospital traffic, for example.

Maintaining distance

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK in early 2020, social distancing has become a part of our daily lives – and it’s even more important to maintain distance when carrying out work in healthcare settings, both for construction workers and patients.

Not only is social distancing a vital step in infection control to protect hospital service users – who may be more vulnerable to infection – but also to protect construction workers. By maintaining as much distance as possible, on-site construction teams are more likely to prevent the spread of infection to their families and each other, which could otherwise cause delays to the works.

The value of communication

In order to implement the appropriate infection control measures for a healthcare contract, flexibility and communication with the client are key. Healthcare settings require a greater level of communication between client and contractor due to the live nature of hospital environments. Any construction works within these environments have the potential to affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people – so maintaining excellent levels of communication is vital for a contract’s success, both generally and specifically in infection control.

Construction teams must work directly with the client from the planning phase and throughout the contract period in order to establish a tailored infection control system that is appropriate for the environment.

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