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    How to conduct an infection control risk assessment in your office

    Risk assessment is a great way to discover where your practice may be falling short.

    Infection control should be an essential consideration for any practice, but knowing where deficiencies lie – and how best to correct them — may be overwhelming for many practitioners.

    Taking the right measures need not be difficult. It starts with having a point-person responsible for all things infection control-related and then preparing, following and continually evaluating a good plan.

    Do you have a problem?

    “A thorough and effective infection control risk assessment of the dental office begins with knowledge,” says Karen Daw, an infection control consultant and former clinic health and safety firector for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “The CDC’s ‘Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings – 2003’ states that ‘Dental practices should develop a written infection-control program to prevent or reduce the risk of disease transmission’ and that each office should have an infection control coordinator ‘knowledgeable or willing to be trained’ to coordinate the program, and to evaluate the policies and procedures of the program on a day-to-day basis. This is a huge undertaking. In order to ensure success, the infection control coordinator must understand what is being assessed and why.”

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    She recommends two key resources to help with the practice’s infection control endeavors.

    “The first great resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Daw says. “On this site, a person conducting an infection control risk assessment will find the 2003 guidelines as well as the latest publication, ‘The Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings - Basic Expectations for Safe Care.’ Here, they will find checklists. Part one assesses written policies and procedures like safe injection practices and respiratory hygiene, to name a few. Part two is where the rubber meets the road and assesses whether the practice is doing what they say they’re doing. Utilizing this checklist, the infection control coordinator can observe and then document areas in need of enhancement and areas that are doing well. The checklist is even available as a free app for iOS and Android devices.

    Dental mask“Another great resource can be found at www.osap.org,” she continues. “The Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) is an organization consisting of clinicians, educators, researchers and industry representatives. Their mission is to ensure the safest dental visit by advocating for infection-free delivery of oral healthcare. Members have access to several checklists that can be utilized to conduct an effective infection control risk assessment. Even better, there are checklists for your traditional brick-and-mortar offices as well as mobile dental clinics.”

    If a problem has been identified, the next steps involve how the practice should respond.

    Written safety procedures

    First, the practice should develop an exposure control plan that puts in writing the steps necessary to correct the deficiencies.

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    “This would be the procedures to protect their workers from exposure to potentially infectious items,” says Mary Borg-Bartlett, president of SafeLink Consulting. “So, the procedures would include the precautions that the worker needs to take, for example, during patient treatment when they’re cleaning the dirty instruments and preparing them for sterilization, and when they are disposing of biohazardous sharps or any sharp items that could be infectious.”

    Having a written procedure allows the practice to have a concrete plan of action.

    “You have to have the written procedures so that you have something to survey and audit against,” she says.

    OSHA or the CDC are the best places to get those procedures.

    “First, they should go to OSHA’s blood-borne pathogen standard that provides them with the governmental requirements,” Borg-Bartlett says. “That will help them identify the risks. Also, they should reference the CDC’s 2003 and 2016 guidelines for dentistry, which provide more detailed information specific to dentistry on how to protect workers.”

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    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...


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