By Arthur Hsieh

As an EMT, you enter people’s homes or workplaces, work in the middle of a roadway, or handle patients affected by a hazardous materials incident or major catastrophic event. You must maintain a constant state of alertness to safety hazards that exist in the environment.

Some safety concerns are common, such as trip hazards, slippery surfaces, and obstructions like low ceilings and overhead wires. Others are more serious, such as cars moving past you or downed electrical wires. Some are violent in nature — aggressive patient behavior, items that can be used as weapons, or large crowds who aren’t pleased with your work.

It’s critical that you remain observant and be prepared to act or react to maintain scene safety for yourself, your crew, and your patient, in that order. If you can’t establish or maintain scene safety, you’re not obligated to begin or maintain patient care until it’s safe to do so.

Your safety extends to communicable diseases. Maintain your immunizations and make sure you undergo periodic testing for exposure to diseases such as tuberculosis.

Hand washing is still considered to be the best way of reducing your exposure to communicable diseases. Using soap and water or an alcohol-based gel or foam is an effective hand-washing method. Spend at least 15 seconds scrubbing your hands continuously before rinsing. Wash even if you wore gloves.

You should be wearing gloves when physically touching patients. If the patient is coughing, consider wearing a HEPA mask to reduce your chance of catching an airborne illness. You may also wear protective eyewear if blood or other bodily fluids are present. Gowns can help keep these fluids off you.