Within the intensive care unit (ICU), there are many areas for concern when attempting to prevent harm to the patients or hospital staff. Although these are often related, it is important that any protective measures for one group do not put another group at increased risk. These measures may rely on the common sense of the individuals concerned, but most are based upon local advice or regulations. The latter may be nationally agreed standards, or may be the result of local risk assessment and management programs. While particular risk areas may be identified, the concept of 'universal precautions' must be outlined. Achieving an entirely risk-free practice is impossible for the foreseeable future, and so staff should approach their work in a way that minimizes exposures without compromising patient care.

The importance of recording accidents cannot be stressed enough since this is often the information source for hazard prediction and accident prevention.

The provision of adequate staff education may prevent many accidents (at least 50 per cent of accidents are avoidable) and so provide the management with a contented workforce that is not adversely affected by sickness and ill-health. This has both ethical and economic implications.

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