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Published: May, 2011; Vol 7, Num 12

 

Hospital Construction: Protect Patients from the Hazards

Expansion demands and accommodations for new medical technology in the nation’s 5,795 hospitals are creating business opportunities for the construction industry. A program from the LHSFNA can provide signatory contractors with a competitive advantage.

The program – Infection Control during Construction Operations in Hospitals Handbook: Policies, Procedures and Strategies for Compliance – offers a comprehensive overview of the issues contractors face in hospital renovation and makes practical recommendations for those who wish to enter the market.

Alternate description

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer
and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

“Hospital renovations present unique challenges because demolition and renovation go on with ill or immunocompromised patients under the same roof, sometimes as close as one room over,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “If these patients are exposed to construction dust, they can develop nosocomial or healthcare-associated infections which can be fatal. Our program helps signatory contractors meet the challenge of containing dust and protecting patients from its hazards.”

Nosocomial infections are complications that develop during medical treatment for other conditions. They are caused by exposures to a wide variety of bacteria, fungi and viruses, many of which are found in dust. In the United States, nosocomial infections kill more than 20,000 people every year. Inhaling dust dislodged during drilling, cutting, grinding and other sources of vibration is responsible for at least 1,000 of these deaths.

Aspergillus, a common fungus that thrives on dead leaves and other decaying plant matter, is a component of dust. Simply by breathing, people everywhere are routinely exposed to aspergillus. When healthy, this is without consequence. For those with weakened immune systems – patients recovering from surgery, undergoing chemotherapy, receiving treatment for heart disease or diabetes, for example – it is a different story. Inhalation of aspergillus and other microbes and bacteria found in ordinary dust can lead to a nosocomial infection like aspergillosis, which can kill.

“To avoid these dangers during renovation,” says Sabitoni, “a contractor must ensure proper planning and coordination with the hospital as well as awareness training for its workers.”

The handbook and an eight-hour awareness course developed by the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division for signatory contractors explains the best methods for protecting patients during hospital construction. According to the program,an effective Infection Control Program is led by an Administrator capable of identifying existing and potential hazards who has the authority to take corrective action and serves as the liaison between hospital management and the contractor. The program examines various barrier systems, such as fire-rated plastic sheeting for small, short-duration projects and drywall with caulked seams for projects that produce moderate to high levels of dust. Ventilation, environmental and contamination controls are reviewed. The program identifies the key elements of worker training:

  • Information on immunocompromised patients
  • Information on opportunistic infections
  • Contents of the Infection Control Program
  • How to recognize and handle medical waste
  • Barrier system management
  • Traffic control policies
  • Dust and debris control
  • How to visually monitor the construction area for compliance with the program
  • Ventilation and environmental control
  • Contamination control
  • Use of particulate respirators or other PPE
  • How to seek help and report exposures (e.g., emergency response, first aid location and initial steps to report exposures

Infection Control during Construction Operations in Hospitals Handbook: Policies, Procedures and Strategies for Compliance is available through the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division. Call 202-628-5465.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]