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Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Click on the area for more specific information. Sharps Container Air Quality Slips/Trips/Falls Latex Gloves Equipment Hazards Waste Basket Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Common safety and health topics:


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Blood, OPIM, Bloodborne Pathogens

Definitions for bloodborne pathogens, other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), and occupational exposure are found in 29 CFR 1910.1030(b).


Potential Hazard

ICU workers are particularly at risk for exposure to blood, OPIM, and bloodborne pathogens because of the immediate, life-threatening nature of treatment.

Possible Solutions

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires precautions when dealing with blood and other potentially infectious materials. For a complete explanation, see Healthcare Wide Hazards - Bloodborne Pathogens. Some summary information for this area include:

  • Provide Engineering and Work Practice Controls

    • Engineering and work practice controls must be the primary means to eliminate or minimize exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Where engineering controls will reduce employee exposure either by removing, eliminating, or isolating the hazard, they must be used, and changes to the Exposure Control Plan (ECP) must include these engineering controls [29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(1)(iv), 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(i) and OSHA Directive CPL 2-2.69.

    Employers must:
  • Ensure employees wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), (e.g., gloves, gowns, face masks), when anticipating blood or OPIM exposure [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(3)(i)].
  • Ensure employees discard contaminated needles and other sharp instruments immediately or as soon as feasible after use into appropriate containers [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(A)(1)].
  • Provide in their exposure control plan documentation of consideration and implementation of appropriate commercially available and effective engineering controls designed to eliminate or minimize exposure to blood and OPIM. [OSHA Directive CPL 2-2.69].
  • Practice Universal Precautions: Treat all blood and other potentially infectious body fluids as if they are infected and take appropriate precautions to avoid contact with these materials [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1)].

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Working Space

Potential Hazard

Intensive care units (ICU's), particularly neonatal ICU's, may be designed without walls between patient spaces. This may allow employees to be unknowingly exposed to aerosolized chemicals and x-ray radiation that escape from neighboring areas.

Possible Solutions

  • All rooms should have adequate ventilation to remove contaminants.

    • If air recirculation is required, then adequate filtering should be installed.

  • Staff in adjoining patient spaces may need to be warned and removed if procedures such as x-rays are occurring.

  • Aerosolized chemicals should be administered in such a fashion as not to expose staff or patients in the area to the hazard.

  • OSHA Technical Manual Hospital Investigation Health Hazards: IV Controls and Prevention.
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Slips/Trips/Falls

Potential Hazard

Because of the emergency atmosphere, (i.e., high traffic and compact treatment spaces) for ICU areas, slips/trips/falls may be a specific concern. There is a potential slip and fall hazard if water or other fluid is spilled on the floor, electrical cords run across pathways, or if emergency equipment or supplies block passage and passageways.

Possible Solutions

Provide safe clean-up of spills and keep walkways free of obstruction.

Book For additional information, see Healthcare Wide Hazards - Slips/Trips/Falls

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Latex Allergy

Potential Hazard

Gloves must be worn frequently in the ICU, because of possible occupational exposure to blood and OPIM. This exposure can potentially lead to latex allergy.

Possible Solutions

  • Employers must provide appropriate gloves when exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) exists [29 CFR 1910.1030 1910.1030(d)(3)(iii)], Bloodborne Pathogens Standard].

Books For additional information see HealthCare Wide Hazards - Latex Allergy.

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Equipment Hazards

Potential Hazard

Injury may occur to employees from improper training or use of equipment, e.g., defibrillators.

Possible Solutions

A program that routinely monitors the status of equipment and proper training of employees to use equipment safely.

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Workplace Violence

Potential Hazard

Workplace violence is an issue in ICU's because of the crowded, emotional situations that can occur with critical patients.

Possible Solutions

Good work practice recommends a security management program that addresses workplace violence in the ICU and could include:

  • Trained staff to recognize and diffuse violent situations and patients.
    • Be alert for potential violence and suspicious behavior and report it.

    • Provide intervention measures including verbal, social, physical, and pharmacological interventions.

    • Warning Signs of Increasing Anger/Violence include:

      • Pacing and/or restlessness

      • Clenched fist

      • Increasingly loud speech

      • Excessive insistence

      • Threats

      • Cursing

Books For additional information see HealthCare Wide Hazards - Workplace Violence.

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Workplace Stress

Studies suggest work stress may increase a person's risk for cardiovascular disease, psychological disorders, workplace injury, and other health problems. Early warning signs may include headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, job dissatisfaction, and low morale.

Potential Hazard

  • All hospital employees are exposed to stress, but employees who work in some areas such as the ICU, or the Emergency Department must deal with additional stress. They are exposed to critically ill patients and must deal with emotional life/death situations on a daily basis, increasing their risk for workplace stress, and job burnout.

Possible Solutions

  • Educate employees and management about job stress.

  • Address work-related stressors, such as inadequate work space, unreasonable work load, lack of readily available resources, inadequate and unsafe equipment.

  • Establish programs to address workplace stress, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or Organizational Change Programs.
  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can improve the ability of workers to cope with difficult work situations. Stress management programs teach workers about the nature and sources of stress, the effects of stress on health, and personal skills to reduce stress-for example, time management or relaxation exercises.

  • EAPs also provide individual counseling for employees for both work and personal problems.

  • Organizational Change Programs change hospital policies and procedures to reduce organizational sources of stress.

    • This is done by bringing in a consultant to recommend ways to improve working conditions. This approach is the most direct way to reduce stress at work. It involves the identification of stressful aspects of work (e.g., excessive workload, conflicting expectations) and the design of strategies to reduce or eliminate the identified stressors. Some strategies include:

      • Ensure that the workload is in line with workers' capabilities and resources.

      • Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.

      • Clearly define workers' roles and responsibilities.

      • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.

Additional Information:

  • Stress...At Work. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-101, (1999).
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Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Potential Hazard

Exposure of staff to nosocominal infections such as MRSA from body fluid exposure. This is especially common in the ICU area, where employees must care for patients who have open and healing wounds from recent surgery.

Possible Solutions

Book For additional information see HealthCare Wide Hazards - Multi-Resistant Organisms (MRO), and (Lack of) Universal Precautions.

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Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

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