Health & Safety in Operating Theatres – Hazards & Precautions

Just like any other working environment, working in an operating theatre comes with numerous occupational hazards. However, in an operating theatre, these hazards can mean life or death. Even the smallest accident could seriously jeopardise the patient’s safety.

The question of health & safety in operating theatres is a deep one. Organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) regularly produce extensive documents advising on theatre safety on both an operational and a managerial level.

So in this post, we’ll provide an essential overview of the sort of hazards theatre staff may face, and the sort of precautions that could help them manage risk. Please note that in this post we’ll focus on staff safety rather than patient safety.

Also be sure to check out our introduction to improving quality and efficiency in operating theatres.

Common Hazards in Operating Theatres

Speaking as broadly as possible, we might categorise the common hazards staff face in operating theatres as follows:

  • Accidents, including slips, trips, and falls.
  • Exposure to hazardous substances.
  • Contamination and infection.

Let’s look at each of these hazards in turn, along with some of the precautions that could help prevent accidents.

Accidents in Operating Theatres – Slips, Trips and Falls

Just like in any other workplace, operating theatre staff can slip on spilled fluids, or trip and fall on a loose wire or a misplaced bit of equipment.

One of the many recommendations made in the NHS Productive Operating Theatre strategy concerns the layout of operating theatres. They advise removing any non-essential items from the area, and assigning each object a set place in the room.

These recommendations are primarily in place to ensure operational efficiency. If everyone knows where everything is, then operations can proceed with fewer interruptions.

But a well-ordered operating theatre is also a much safer operating theatre. If there are no non-essential items in the area, and if everything is in its right place, then in theory there’ll be no obstacles for theatre staff to trip over as they carry out their work.

The Importance of Good Theatre Hygiene

The guidelines also recommend regularly cleaning and maintaining the operating theatre environment. This is mainly for patient safety, to reduce the risks of infection. But it can also contribute to staff safety. Promptly cleaning any fluids spilled on the floor makes it less likely that anyone will slip and fall.

The right equipment can make a huge difference here. For example, non-drip absorbent operating theatre floor mats can soak up any spilled fluids before they become a health and safety hazard. Then, after the operation, they can simply be picked up, discarded and replaced. This will reduce the turnaround time between operations while also removing the need to mop, so staff won’t have to worry about wet and slippery surfaces.

Exposure to Hazardous Substances

Operating theatre procedures make use of a number of substances which can pose a health hazard  if staff are exposed to them for long periods.

A key culprit in the operating theatre is Isoflurane, which anaesthetists use to maintain a state of general anaesthesia. If inhaled in its vapor form, Isoflurane can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. But long-term exposure can lead to chronic health conditions, including renal, hepatic, and reproductive disorders.

Like all potentially hazardous substances, so long as it’s properly stored, and so long as your equipment is properly maintained, then Isoflurane should pose no problems. But as the substance is so volatile, even the smallest spillage or leak poses a health hazard.

Prevention, and the Cure

Another key recommendation in the NHS Productive Operating Theatre strategy is to stay on top of your equipment maintenance. Again, this is primarily to ensure patient safety, as you cannot depend on faulty equipment to do the job you need it to do. But it’s also to ensure staff safety, to ensure that, for example, any leaks are fixed before they pose a problem.

Wearing adequate PPE when handling or cleaning substances will also help you manage this hazard. But for total peace of mind, get a workplace exposure monitoring report for any area of your hospital where staff are exposed to hazardous substances.

A comprehensive report will include clear and actionable recommendations, so you’ll know exactly where the risks lie and exactly what to do to protect your staff.

Contamination and Infection in Operating Theatres

Infection control measures in operating theatres put the patient’s needs first, as surgical site infections (SSIs) account for around 20% of all hospital-acquired infections.

But of course, any measure that protects patients from infection will also protect staff from infection.

Operating theatres must be aseptic, highly-sterile, and restricted environments. Achieving this requires good air ventilation, strategic zoning, and numerous infection control precautions.

You can read our full guide to cleaning for infection prevention and control in operating theatres here.

PPE also plays a huge part in protecting both staff and patient from infection. It’s not just a question of selecting the right PPE for the task at hand. Just as important is applying and removing the PPE in the correct order.

Health and Safety in Operating Theatres – Essential Support, Solutions, and Guidance

We offer many services and solutions that can help you stay on top of health and safety in the operating theatre.

Our services include:

  • Air purification
  • Face-fit testing for PPE effectiveness
  • Workplace exposure monitoring services
  • Washroom hygiene solutions
  • Fluid management solutions, including absorbent floor mats
  • Cleaning equipment, disposal containers, and sanitising chemicals

Our experts are always on-hand to discuss your needs. So if you’d like some guidance health and safety in operating theatres, get in touch to talk to an expert today.