IPC – what are standard precautions?

Glove box OPT

Continuing on from last week’s infection prevention and control (IPC), this week we will be looking into standard precautions.

Standard precautions (SPs), formerly known as universal precautions, are a single set of activities to be used as a minimum in the care of all patients. They aim to break the chain of infection and reduce the transmission of micro-organisms.

In many instances, pathogenic (disease producing) organisms have already spread prior to a confirmed diagnosis. Pathogenic organisms are frequently carried by individuals in their blood, body fluids or on the skin without signs of clinical infection.

It is important to carry out the appropriate precautions at all times, for all patients, rather than wait for a diagnosis, which may be too late to prevent the spread of infection. Standard precautions minimise risks to both other patients and you as staff.

As to be expected, hand hygiene is a major part of standard precautions, and actually one of the most effective methods to prevent spreading infections. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as per relevant guidelines is also really important, along with things like the safe handling and disposal of waste and sharps, safe handling of linen, and the decontamination of equipment/environment.

IPC guidance says you should:

  • presume that all body substances (blood, excreta, secretions etc.) contain infective microorganisms
  • reduce the risk of infection by wearing disposable gloves and an apron when in contact with blood and body fluids and when touching mucous membranes or non-intact skin
  • perform good hand hygiene - look out for breaks in the skin, cuts and abrasions which could provide an entry point to infective micro-organisms; these should be covered with waterproof dressings
  • recognise that mucous membranes allow absorption of body fluids; wearing protective eye wear will prevent the risk of absorption by splashing or by inhaling some airborne micro-organisms
  • recognise that maintaining a safe clean environment is essential for preventing the spread of infection.

Who benefits?

Your patients: standard precautions reduce the risk of infection spreading from one patient to another via unwashed hands or via inadequately disinfected equipment/ environment.

You: standard precautions are designed to protect you from becoming accidentally contaminated with infective substances and being injured by blood contaminated items.

For more details please see the Trust safe practice guidelines.

Published 16th October, 2015

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