10 Tips for Nursing Safety

Nurse wearing face mask and rubber gloves, holding a vial of patient's blood
Nurse wearing face mask and rubber gloves, holding a vial of patient's blood

Nursing in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart. Unsafe staffing ratios, sicker patients and a focus on patient satisfaction above all else, have created a situation where nurses sometimes sacrifice proper technique and safeguards to provide faster service. The bedside can be a dangerous place; if you’re considering stepping away from the frontlines, you can pursue one of the Nursing degree programs at Spring Arbor University. Whether you work in a hospital, an outpatient setting, or elsewhere, these 10 tips for nursing safety will keep you out of the occupational health office.


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1. Needle Safety

No nurse has ever woken up and said, “Today’s the day I stick myself with a dirty needle!” And yet, accidental needlestick injuries are a shockingly common threat to nursing safety. High-stress situations, being in a hurry and unpredictable patients all contribute to the occurrence of needlestick injuries. Be sure to utilize the safety features of the needle, keep your fingers behind the needle when inserting it into the patient and place the syringe AND needle directly into the sharps container. For the love of Florence Nightingale, do not recap the needle by hand. If you must recap it, use the scoop technique you were taught on the very first day of nursing school.

2. Safe Patient Handling

Another common nursing safety issue is patient handling and patient transfer. By the time patients are admitted to the hospital, they are acutely ill and likely unable to manage themselves. Coupled with the obesity epidemic and unsafe staffing ratios, the situation is ripe for nursing injuries. If your hospital/unit doesn’t have them already, advocate for lifts and transfer devices to ensure patient and nurse safety. If you’re lucky enough to have them, utilize them. It may take a little longer to get the patient in the sling, but it’s still quicker than battling for a workman’s comp claim when you herniate every last disc in your back.

3. Hazardous Drug Administration

Be aware of any special handling requirements for drugs you are administering to your patients. Some drugs require wearing double gloves and a mask when administering them. Unintentional exposure could seriously compromise nurse safety. Other drugs are excreted in the urine, which requires more than standard precautions to handle it safely. Speak with your pharmacy about unfamiliar drugs to ensure that you, your coworkers and your patients are safe.

4. Repetitive Motion Injury Prevention

You’re only given one body, so use it well. Another aspect of nursing safety is preventing repetitive motion injuries. Invest in quality shoes. Consider having multiple pairs and rotate them to give the foam insoles a chance to recover; they’ll break down more slowly. Wear compression socks or stockings when you work. Your feet, legs and the rest of your body will thank you at the end of each day. If you’re noticing your foot (or knee or hip or back, etc.) are regularly causing pain at the end of each shift, go see a doctor. It’s far better to manage any injuries that occur earlier than to let it fester or develop into a huge problem.

5. Infection Prevention

A hallmark of nursing safety is preventing yourself from getting whatever your patients have. If they’re in the hospital recovering from the flu, don the appropriate personal protective gear every single time or risk getting sick yourself and carrying it home to your family. Speaking of the flu, get your flu shot early. As they teach in nursing school, treat every substance as if it’s contagious and protect yourself as such.

6. Physical Nursing Safety

If you’ve watched the news or scrolled through social media lately, you’ve no doubt seen the media coverage of physical attacks on nurses. Patients and families in high-stress situations with little to no coping skills can pose a serious threat to nursing safety. It’s not always possible to know the triggers or know how a person will react, so it’s important to have strong situational awareness. Additionally, never let anyone or anything come between you and the door; always give yourself an exit. If you’re uncomfortable with a situation, back away and out of the room; do not turn your back.

7. Online Safety: Navigating Social Media

A new threat to nursing safety is social media. Obviously, this threat is not necessarily physical. However, missteps online could lead to the loss of your job and/or your nursing license. Strictly follow your employer’s guidelines for how to conduct yourself online. Keep identifying information from posts and pictures. Identifying information is more than just a name; you shouldn’t post about your patients at all but posting detailed descriptions can be a HIPAA violation. Nurses have lost their jobs for derogatory posts about patients. Do not make the same mistake.

8. Bullying

Each nurse must make the commitment to mentor and build up fellow nurses, providing them with support rather than chastisement. The life of a nurse is hard enough without being bullied. Encourage your coworkers to treat less experienced nurses with respect and compassion. If you are being bullied, reach out to your nurse manager or educator. This kind of unacceptable behavior should be stopped.

9. Personal Health Maintenance

It’s not always realistic to think you will be able to drink all eight of your recommended glasses of water each day. However, dehydration and neglecting to empty your bladder can have some serious consequences. Urinary stasis can lead to urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and kidney infections. Take the extra minute to relieve yourself before taking your patient the blanket he rang the call light for two minutes after you left his room. Your bladder will thank you!

10. Burnout Prevention

There’s a reason that flight attendants tell parents to put on their own oxygen masks before putting on their children’s masks: you must take care of yourself to care for others. Burnout can occur for a variety of reasons and has serious ramifications for safe patient care. One way to prevent or treat burnout is to engage in self-care — take a little time for yourself. Consider giving away that extra shift and binge-watching old TV episodes. Get a massage, go for a run, have a night out on the town with friends. Engage in whatever activities allow you to regain perspective, combat burnout and be present at work. Your coworkers, patients and their families will thank you.


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See Spring Arbor University Online's top nursing blog posts below.

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