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Health and Safety for CNAs

As a CNA one of your most important responsibilities is the promotion of health and safety. If you’re not motivated or able to adequately provide for a patient’s health and safety, you won’t make it long as a CNA. As you go through your CNA training you will learn about the following topics.

Communicable diseases

Many CNAs work in long term care facilities which can be a hotbed for communicable diseases. These diseases are contagious, with the ability to spread from person to person via a pathogen such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses. 

One of the most common, and dangerous, pathogens that can strike in these locations is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA. This bacterial pathogen is resistant to antibiotics that are typically used to kill bacteria. This infection can spread into the bloodstream and be fatal. 

Other diseases you will need to become familiar with include tuberculosis, pneumonia, and influenza. These pathogens can be passed through contamination by contact with an open wound or bodily fluids as well as via airborne transmission from droplets in coughs, sneezes, or even breathing. Skin infections are also common in long term care. Conditions like shingles and scabies can be passed from person to person by direct contact.

As a CNA you play an important role in stopping the spread of communicable diseases. It is up to you to effectively communicate the proper steps for infection control to patients and their families. You’ll also need to manage your own health and hygiene – including avoiding work when you are ill. Other critical procedures and precautions you will need to follow are detailed below.

  • Medical asepsis. This includes following the CDC guidelines for handwashing – after using the restroom, before and after entering a patient’s room, touching a patient’s belongings, or whenever dirty or contaminated with blood or bodily fluids. In these cases, you must wash your hands with soap and hot water for 30 seconds. You should also regularly moisturize your hands to avoid your skin drying and breaking. Wear gloves when dealing with blood or infectious materials. 
  • Surgical asepsis. Before, during, and after surgery it’s vital that you follow protocol to avoid contamination of catheters, dressings, and other equipment that will be coming in contact with the patient. If you are assisting a nurse, do not touch any objects to avoid the spread of potential pathogens.
  • Personal protective equipment. CNAs deal with a variety of bodily fluids: saliva, secretions, blood, urine, and more. These fluids can spray and splatter so it’s important that you protect yourself from contamination by wearing masks, eye protection, gowns, and face shields when you may come in contact with such contaminants.
  • Sharp objects. You must be extremely careful with sharp objects like needles, keeping them away from patients when not in use. If, by chance, a puncture wound occurs from a sharp object it must be reported to a superior immediately. Bloodborne pathogens such as HIV are exceptionally high risk and can be transmitted in these instances.
  • Properly caring for resident equipment. Follow your organization’s policies and procedures for cleaning, care, and disposal of resident care equipment to avoid the transmission of pathogens. 
  • Maintaining a safe environment. Keeping patients’ belongings, furniture, and living surfaces free of contamination by promptly cleaning and disinfecting after spills or possible contamination can significantly reduce the risk of infection. You’ll also need to be mindful of all procedures for handling hazardous waste such as blood and bodily fluid.
  • Linens. Soiled linens must be changed promptly, this includes linens that touch the floor. Remove the linen by folding the contaminated portion inward, and carrying away from your body. Place it in a plastic bag and follow your facility’s procedure for soiled linens. 

The impact of aging

As the human body ages, various systems that help maintain wellness will begin to experience problems. The wear and tear of time and age provide the opportunity for diseases to take advantage of weaker immune systems and a greater likelihood of injuries. Aging can cause a number of troubling issues for older adults which must be managed:

  • Vision and hearing issues
  • Reduced mobility
  • Greater risk of illness
  • Reduced ability to sense pain

Losses in strength and flexibility can lead to stability issues. Combining that with declining eyesight, and balance from hearing loss puts elderly people at a greater risk of falling and suffering catastrophic injuries.  

As people age, they also become used to discomfort and pain, which means they may not point out minor issues until they become more problematic. An abrasion or cut might not be noticed until it becomes infected, leading to a greater likelihood of infection or serious illness.

As a CNA you will also need to be aware of various risk factors for chronic illnesses. These can come in a variety of forms including past health conditions, as well as racial, ethnic, and cultural factors. For example, certain ethnic groups such as African Americans have an elevated risk of hypertension compared to other groups.

Resident safety

There are some basic elements to being a CNA that can drastically improve their patients’ safety. A patient has a right to feel safe in their care environment, and some fundamentals can help make sure that’s the case.

  • Properly identify patients – every time. Always check a patient’s identification to make sure they are getting the right care and the right meal. Providing the wrong treatment or meal could have disastrous consequences for some patients.
  • Protect patients from abuse. Be on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect of your patients and report any suspicions to the appropriate supervisor immediately.
  • Fall protection. Elderly patients are at a higher risk of falls. Constantly scan for hazards that could increase the risk of falls – residents not wearing glasses, clutter in walkways, inadequate lighting, setting patients’ beds in the lowest position for easy entry, and exits. 
  • Follow fire safety guidelines. CNAs should follow the R.A.C.E. system when dealing with a fire. Remove all residents from the immediate area. Activate the alarm and notify others. Contain the fire by closing doors around the location on fire. Extinguish the fire.

Accident reporting

Your facility should have a person designated for receiving reports of incidents or accidents even if there is no resulting injury to the patient. Be certain to provide accurate details of the event, including time and place as well as whether you were involved or only a witness. Accurate and timely reporting helps shape each facility’s policy for the better, making this another critical health and safety role for a nursing aide.