Physical hazards are workplace agents, factors, or circumstances that can cause tissue damage by transfer of energy from the agent to the person.
Examples of Physical Hazards
- Noise sources in healthcare settings include machines, alarms, ventilators, generators, ventilation systems, orthopedic cutting saws, dental drills, and lack of acoustical absorptive material (e.g., no carpet).
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise at work can cause permanent hearing loss. Both acute and chronic noise exposure can be problematic.
- Loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration leading to errors, contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals, elevate heart rate and blood pressure, and hinder patient rest and recovery.
- During the day shift, noise levels in patient areas should not exceed 40 decibels and during the night shift should not exceed 35 decibels per guidance by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Emergency department noise levels are generally 5-10 decibels higher than inpatient units (61-69 decibels); newborn intensive care units (NICUs) are 55-89 decibels, and some intensive care units (ICUs) exceed 100 decibels (Berglund, Lindvall, & Schwela, 1999).
- Elevated noise levels were reported in the top 10 work hazards in a U.S. nurse survey (American Nurses Association, 2019).
- A narrow beam that focuses and creates a high intensity light during use in surgical procedures to cut through tissue.
- Exposure to laser beams can result in severe eye injuries and skin burns from direct, reflected, or misdirected beams.
- Lasers, as ignition sources, can result in endotracheal tube fire, surgical drape fire, explosion of gases, and electrical damage.
- Lasers used in surgical procedures can emit electrosurgical smoke and toxic gases.
Radiologists, dental care providers, and other healthcare personnel can face exposure to radiation during x-ray or other diagnostic or therapeutic interventional nuclear medicine procedures. The amount of exposure that may produce harmful effects isn’t always clear. Some common health effects from radiation exposure include cataracts, thyroid, cardiovascular, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) damage, suppression of the immune response, and latent-brain cancer (time taken from the exposure to diagnosis of brain cancer).
There are two types of radiation: Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation differentiated on the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Medical diagnostics use both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
- occurs at the higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths on the EM spectrum.
- is used in X-rays, nuclear medicine radioisotopes, medical therapeutics (e.g., Radioiodine I-131), computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and fluoroscopy. Spills of liquids containing radioisotopes represent another source of exposure.
- may create exposure for patient care aides, nurses, nurse aides, and other healthcare personnel when handling bedpans, soiled linens and clothing, and other materials in contact with excreta or emesis from patients receiving nuclear medicine isotopes.
- may create exposure resulting in erythema, dermatitis, acute radiation syndrome, and cancer.
- occurs at the lower frequencies and longer wavelengths on the EM spectrum (compared to ionizing radiation).
- is used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and laser techniques, and ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection.
- exposure (depending on the source of the radiation) can result in eye damage and skin burns.