Critical incidents of nonadherence with standard precautions guidelines among community hospital-based health care workers

Kristi J. Ferguson, Howard Waitzkin, Susan E. Beekmann, Bradley N. Doebbeling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To identify, categorize, and assess critical incidents of nonadherence to standard precautions. DESIGN: Qualitative and quantitative analysis of a written. mail-out survey. SETTING: Community hospitals. PARTICIPANTS: Statewide stratified random sample of community hospital-based health care workers at risk for blood exposure. MAIN VARIABLE: Responses to the question: "Think of an incident during the past year when you didn't adhere to universal precautions. Please describe the situation and why you didn't adhere." RESULTS: Reasons given for not using precautions included: belief that stopping to use standard precautions would have put the patient at risk (22%); using precautions would have interfered with patieat care (20%); precautions were not warranted in a specific situation (14%); did not anticipate the potential for exposure (14%); and high job demands that had caused respondent to be in a hurry (11%). Less often, equipment was not available (7%), respondent forgot (6%), respondent thought that the patient did not pose a risk (4%), or the available equipment was not effective (3%). In terms of overall exposure rates, 34% of those who described an incident had experienced a sharps injury during the previous 3 months and 42% had experienced a mucocutaneous exposure. In terms of overall nonadherence, 44% wore gloves less than 100% of the time, while 61% washed their hands less than 100% of the time. Needlestick injuries were lowest among those who had forgotten to use precautions, while mucocutaneous exposures were highest among those who had not anticipated potential exposure while performing the task. Failure to wear gloves routinely was highest among those who said that following precautions interfered with their ability to provide care and among those who believed a particular patient to be low risk; failure to wash hands routinely was also highest among the latter group and lowest among those who said necessary equipment was not available. CONCLUSIONS: Using specific information about local incidents of nonadherence to standard precautions may enhance training, especially if the program identifies incidents of unanticipated exposure and helps workers plan for them in the future. Closer examination of job demands and responsibilities that interfere with standard precautions may increase the likelihood of adherence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)726-731
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Blood-borne pathogens
  • Inservice training
  • Needlestick injuries
  • Standard precautions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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