BBH speaks to Charlie Benson of Kara about the impact of workwear selection on infection prevention and control practices in hospitals
Healthcare workwear can be a source of transmission for potentially-harmful bacteria
Working in healthcare environments is extremely rewarding, but meeting the high standards of looking after the more vulnerable can be stressful and fast-paced, especially when it comes to cleanliness and hygiene.
To make processes of day-to-day tasks more streamlined, it’s imperative that steps are taken to prevent the spread of germs and infection where possible - even when it comes to workwear.
Charlie Benson, founder and general manager of scrubs and uniforms provider, Kara, explains: “Healthcare environments often require employees to wear uniforms, so these need to be smart, practical, and safe, allowing for mobility and comfort with the ability to be easily and quickly decontaminated when needed.”
Sourcing materials that can be washed at high temperatures, survive the daily wear and tear of working in a healthcare setting, and also provide resistance against liquids can be difficult.
“Most healthcare workers are looking for comfort, but it’s essential that uniforms are compatible with PPE, as well as meeting criteria that will help minimise the spread of infection by repelling liquids and withstanding multiple washes a week,” said Benson.
Healthcare professionals come into regular contact with those with weakened immune systems, so any precautions which prevent the risk of bringing germs from the outside into the environment are vitally important
Risk assessments should be outlined by the employer to highlight regulations on when, and how uniforms, should be washed and changed, he advises.
The policies should detail how to comply with essential good practices with regard to uniforms and support good hand hygiene.
For example, it’s usually protocol for arms to be bare below the elbow.
In addition, warmer weather and PPE can cause wearers to sweat more, again meaning uniforms should be cleaned more regularly to reduce the spread of bacteria and germs.
Workwear should survive daily wear and tear as well as providing resistance to fluids and must be easy to clean at high temperatures
“Healthcare professionals come into regular contact with those with weakened immune systems, so any precautions which prevent the risk of bringing germs from the outside into the environment are vitally important”, said Benson.
“Encouraging staff not to travel into work in uniform will minimise the risk of germs being transferred from the outdoors into sterile environments.
“Under the Workplace Regulations (Health and Safety Executive 1992) , if a workplace requires employees to change into and wear specialist clothing, such as a uniform, then employers must provide adequate changing facilities.
“There should also be an arrangement made so that employees are able to safely transport their uniform to work and facilities for them to change out of their personal clothing into their uniform.”
Regularly washing and changing clothes is an effective way to reduce the spread of infections to maintain public and patient confidence in care workers and their organisations, especially since the pandemic
In some cases, it is recommended that uniforms should be laundered on site by laundry services.
“The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) expects all employers at this time to consider all options around laundering uniforms for their employees to reduce the reliance on home laundering. All such arrangements must comply with infection prevention standards,” said Benston.
“Washing uniforms immediately once a shift is complete will minimise the multiplication of bacteria and viruses.
“And regularly washing and changing clothes is an effective way to reduce the spread of infections to maintain public and patient confidence in care workers and their organisations, especially since the pandemic.”
He added: “When choosing uniforms as a healthcare worker, there’s a lot to take into consideration, but key considerations have to include longevity of the material, comfort, hygiene and practicality.
“Anything that contributes towards preventing the spread of infection in these settings is a positive, so sourcing the best materials and garments for the job is imperative.”