How to Identify Ecological Hazards

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson explains the term ecological hazard. Next, we will look at different types of ecological hazards and why they are hazardous. Finally, we will highlight places in healthcare facilities where hazards exist.

Hazards

A slippery floor, a curvy road, and sharp objects. What do these things have in common? They could have a couple of things in common, but the main thing that may pop into your mind is that they are all hazards. Hazards are anything that could cause potential harm or danger to persons or personal property. Each of the things we just mentioned could be very dangerous if they are not approached in a cautious manner.

Hazards can be potentially harmful
Picture of a hazard sign

There are things and situations in the healthcare field that may be equally and potentially more dangerous than the things just mentioned. Hazards in the healthcare field fall into different categories. Some hazards are mechanical while others are physical and some are thermal while others are radiation hazards. We are going to discuss a little about ecological hazards in this lesson.

Ecological Hazards

We first need to be sure we have an understanding of what we mean when we say ecological hazard. This is anything from interactions with other living organisms, the immediate environment, or interactions between living organisms and the environment that poses danger or harm. Now that we are all on the same page, let's follow Jackson, our nurse and OSHA officer, as he evaluates the hospital where he works for ecological hazards.

Other people are an ecological hazard since they spread microbes
Picture of a person coughing showing droplets flying out of the mouth

The immediate ecological hazard that Jackson sees is one that you likely recognize all the time whether you are in a hospital or doctor's office or not. That hazard is other people. Most people are well-meaning, but they come with their own set of microbes that could possibly make you sick. Even something as simple as the patient's normal flora bacteria may cause you harm. You have heard of instances of this happening. They are usually the culprit of most Staph infections.

Infections take us to our next, and closely related, ecological hazard. People are carriers of infectious diseases. Jackson thinks about this every single time someone around him coughs. He has to wonder if people just have something in their throat or if they have a disease such as tuberculosis. People shed infectious diseases through many methods. Some of the methods, such as sexual contact, are obsolete in the hospital. However, coughing, sneezing, talking, touching and release of bodily fluids are methods that still apply in the hospital setting.

Sneezing, coughing, and talking brings another ecological hazard to mind that Jackson needs to identify. That hazard is a non-sanitized surface. Jackson soon sees that he is surrounded by non-sanitized surfaces. They are everywhere in the hospital as well as other healthcare settings. Door handles, elevator buttons, countertops, chairs, and tables are not normally sanitized and may contain many different microbes from people touching or otherwise depositing microbes on them. You touching these surfaces with your hands usually isn't much of a hazard, but it becomes a hazard when you touch non-sanitized surfaces and then touch any of your mucous membranes like the ones in your eyes or mouth.

Jackson is making his way through the hospital and knows very well that biohazard waste is a very big ecological hazard. He knows this since it even has hazard in the name! The other part of the name is bio- so you know that it has to do with living organisms. Biohazardous waste is any waste coming from a living organism that contains potentially infectious blood or other bodily fluids and materials. Sources of biohazardous wastes could be bloody bed sheets, urinals, bedside pans, and clothing.

Biohazard waste poses a serious potential health risk
Picture of biohazard waste box and person in PPE

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