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.

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

It’s important to always remember that healthcare buildings such as hospitals are most likely to be used by vulnerable people. It is vital that steps are taken to control the spread of infection across all sectors, particularly in the age of Covid-19, however emphasis on infection control should be 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 impact the day-to-day running of departments and wards. It’s therefore crucial for contractors like Novus to minimise this impact through extensive planning, and by carrying out works with both flexibility and compassion.

Infection control in healthcare settings

There are several steps that contractors can take to minimise the risk of infection:

Minimising dust
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.

There are several control measures contractors can implement to minimise dust and prevent infection outside of the construction zone. A simple way to do this is to restrict access to spaces where dust is being produced 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 dry wall 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 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, 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 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

To implement the appropriate infection control measures, 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.

For more information about Novus Property Solutions and their Healthcare expertise, please visit our website.

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