An ambulance with the Emergency Phone Number 112

Safety and Health at Work: The New Daily Life in the Ambulance

In keeping with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) "World Day for Safety and Health at Work" on April 28th, we look at occupational safety and health: What has changed as a result of COVID-19, particularly for emergency paramedics - our helpers at the pandemic front.

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Why occupational health and safety measures are still important

April 28th is "World Day for Safety and Health at Work"

Every year, around 2.8 million people still die from accidents or illnesses related to their work, according to the ILO1. So, although the rate of reportable occupational accidents fell by 12.8% during the pandemic in 2020, occupational safety and health remains a pressing issue2. Especially for healthcare workers who come into contact with potential pathogens on a daily basis. This makes comprehensive occupational health and safety measures all the more important.
International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration
“Safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work.”

International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration

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How occupational health and safety is practised in the health sector

Interview with an Emergency Paramedic on the Frontlines of the Pandemic

Michael Paul, Deputy Head of Department IV: Education, Quality Management at the DRK Kreisverband Stuttgart, is experiencing first-hand the changes required by the pandemic in terms of occupational safety in the rescue services. In this interview he tells us what has changed.
Michael Paul, emergency paramedic at DRK Kreisverband Stuttgart
“Overall, the entire staff at the station pay more attention to hand hygiene today.”

Michael Paul, emergency paramedic at DRK Kreisverband Stuttgart

Now common practice in the workplace, some even adhered to it before the pandemic: physical distancing. The rescue service also resorts to the preventive measures at the station: "We now adhere to physical distancing guidelines and, if we cannot keep the minimum distance, we are required to wear a mask.”

But emergency missions with patient contact have changed. Special caution is required, and careful consideration is important: "Today we read the mission reports with a sharper eye and consider beforehand whether extended protective measures are necessary. As a matter of principle, all staff members wear a FFP2 mask and protective gloves when they have contact with patients. If a COVID-19 infection is suspected, protective goggles and gowns are added."

Most of the processes for disinfection existed already before the pandemic. However, due to SARS-CoV-2, disinfection takes place more often: "The disinfection measures after a mission have remained the same. We have standard procedures. If COVID-19 was suspected in a patient, we disinfect the entire vehicle according to these guidelines. This has increased because the number of suspected cases has risen. The organisational effort has also increased: It is difficult to get the necessary protective equipment and to always have sufficient quantities in stock."
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What can go wrong despite protective clothing

Risk of Contamination Through Contact with own Protective Clothing

If sufficient occupational safety measures have been implemented and enough protective equipment is available, protection against contamination is in the hands of the employees. And there is a lot to consider here. According to a study, nurses often contaminate themselves through contact with their own personal protective equipment (PPE). In a total of 59 hospital employees, the pathogens examined were still found on the hands of 21% after taking off the PPE3. Therefore, the correct removal of protective equipment is extremely important.
Remove gloves
1. Remove gloves and dispose of in a closed waste container.
Disinfect hands thoroughly
2. Disinfect hands thoroughly. While doing so, operate the lever of the dispenser with the elbow.
Remove the protective gown
3. Remove the protective gown. First pull out the arms and fold the gown with the contaminated side inwards. Dispose in the waste container.
Disinfect hands
4. And again: Disinfect hands. Just as thoroughly as the first time.
Remove the goggles
5. Remove the goggles. Grasp by both temples and pull away to the front.
Disinfect hands
6. You guessed it: Disinfect hands. That is why a good disinfectant should also be gentle on the skin!
Remove the face mask
7. Remove the face mask and dispose of in the waste bin.
Disinfect hands
8. Once again for the grand finale. Disinfect your hands.
1Internatinal Labour Organization. Safety and health at work. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/lang--en/index.htm (last retrieved on 13.04.2021).
2Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung (DGUV). Vorläufige Unfall- und Berufskrankheitenzahlen 2020. https://www.dguv.de/de/zahlen-fakten/vorlaeufige_zahlen/allgemeine-uv/index.jsp(last retrieved on 13.04.2021).
3Phan L et al. (2019). Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 40(12): 1356-1360.

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