With a global pandemic front and center in 2020, countless individuals’ lives have been impacted in never-before-seen ways. From unemployment lines to restricted store hours, the global economy has been shaken to its core. From a healthcare perspective, the situation is even more dire: worries about comprehensive care, basic access to primary health care and contagious public interactions are just a few of the many concerns people are now facing.

However, few have as much concern for the current crisis as health workers. Being on the front lines of this pandemic, the healthcare system has had to adapt in numerous ways to handle these implications. With safety being the number one concern, many changes have occurred – particularly within hospitals. However, it’s not just COVID-related concerns that are making hospitals adapt.

Here are some examples of how health workers are putting safety first in hospitals during COVID-19 and beyond.

Aging Hospital Infrastructure Needs to Adapt

Even without a pandemic erupting at ground zero in hospitals, other dangers lurk – often unnoticed by the public. In the United States, there are many hospitals that are several decades old or more. These institutions may or may not be prestigious in their communities, but their infrastructure often masks potentially dangerous elements lurking in their walls, floors, ceilings and beyond.

The prevalence of asbestos and lead paint in older hospitals is higher than some might think. In the US, asbestos use was banned in 1989 – but all structures built prior to that are still legally allowed to contain these elements. A decade prior – in 1978 – lead paint was given a similar treatment.

Yet hospitals – particularly those in larger cities – may still contain lead and/or asbestos. While some contained areas of these chemicals may not be an imminent danger to patients and staff, areas that receive a lot of traffic or movement are more likely to pose a threat.

No Visitor Hospital Policies Are Protecting Workers

While not an ongoing health crisis, the emergence of COVID-19 has forced hospitals to adapt with regard to visitor policies. The bulk of hospitals in the US have implemented no-visitor policies since March 2020, as one method of many to protect both patients and health workers alike. These policies are having major impacts on patients and families, but these policies are designed to contain the outbreak of and exposure to any COVID-19 illnesses.

For health workers, these policies have reduced the likelihood of exposure to the virus. While direct contact with COVID-19 patients is a reality for some hospital health workers, eliminating the traffic that comes with friends and family members entering the hospital – some of whom would undoubtedly have the virus but not be aware of it – helps further protect staff from unnecessary infection.

When used alongside existing protocols designed to minimize exposure, the no-visitor policies being utilized by many hospitals are keeping staff safe.

Ultimately, hospital staff accept a certain amount of risk by showing up to work each day. However, unnecessary exposure to dangerous chemicals embedded within the hospital itself – as well as viral exposure – should be minimized wherever possible. While hospitals are taking proper precautions to safeguard against existing pandemics, some hospital workers are vulnerable to longstanding safety issues such as lead and asbestos that present gradual, chronic threats to their health.