Addressing human factors in decontamination

Tim Sandle discusses how human factors approaches can assist with improving performance by lowering variability in the decontamination of medical devices – thereby reducing rates of contamination and improving patient safety

Ensuring that surgical processing departments are well-run is of great importance, as these departments are responsible for decontaminating reusable surgical equipment and for delivering it, as required, to operating theatres. Decontamination involves several processes, occurring within dedicated facilities, including cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation, which ensures reusable surgical instruments are safe for further use on patients.1 The operation requires maintaining a well-ordered facility, ensuring it is clean and decontamination practices can be consistently reproduced. 

While most units have well-written procedures, human errors will happen and these can sometimes lead, in the most serious cases, to the transference of contamination and patient infection (healthcare-associated infections). While human failure is normal and predictable, it can be identified and managed. Hence, errors can be reduced by reviewing how surgical processing departments are managed and how personnel operate, in particular, by reducing the level of variability. An approach that can deliver success in this area is the ‘human factors method’.

This article looks at three areas where human factors approaches can assist with improving performance through lowering variability and, hence, reducing contamination rates. These are:

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