Why Uniform Policy Should Be Treated As A Separate Entity

By Philippa Shirtcliffe, Head of Care Quality, QCS (www.qcs.co.uk)

When the Coronavirus pandemic is finally contained, Monday, 12th, April 2021 may or may not prove to be a fundamental turning point. While I don’t wish to get too carried away, a world- class vaccination programme has enabled some people to meet in pub gardens, visit hairdressers and search out bargains in high street clothes shops. Some of our newly won freedoms also extend to care homes, where care home residents in England are allowed to receive visits from two visitors. The relaxation in the rules has meant that for the first time some service users have been able to meet grandchildren who were born in the lockdown for the first time.

While variants from Brazil, South Africa and other parts of the world could still throw us of course – it certainly feels that the UK is breaking new ground. That said, maintaining robust Infection, Prevention and Control measures – not just in the care sector – but throughout society is absolutely vital if we are to avoid another lockdown. The truth is that even a vaccination pro- gramme is not enough to keep this insidious and deadly virus at bay. If you want proof, you only have to look at Chile. Despite vaccinating 37 percent of its population, Chile, has had to re-introduce stringent Covid restrictions after the number of new cases rose dramatically.

In previous articles, I have written about the importance of infection, prevention and control measures, and throughout the pandemic, QCS, the organisation I work for, has been providing the latest IPC content, guidance and standards to the care sector. Many reading this piece will have used our policies and procedures, which are constantly updated, and so will be familiar with best practice in this area.

But today, I want to spend some time looking at important area in the IPC debate, which is sometimes overlooked – and that is the need to make uniform and workwear an integral part of an IPC programme. To achieve this, the best providers create a uniform policy. QCS has developed several policies and procedures – some of which are linked to HR – and others that tie into Health & Safety. QCS also works very closely with Napthens H&S to ensure that the latest Health and Safety protocols are embedded in all its policies.

So, what are the Health & Safety issues that providers need to address? Let me begin by quoting the Royal College of Nurses. Its Uniform and Workwear guidance document says that workwear “must allow mobility and comfort, whilst being able to withstand decontamination”.

In this respect, uniforms must be much more robust than leisure clothes. They must be able to cope with be being constantly washed at temperatures exceeding 60 degrees celsius without shrinking or spoiling.

It is also important that staff responsible for purchasing carefully research the materials used before buying a consignment of uniform. When I previously was involved in buying uniforms, we tried before we bought.

We wore uniforms, not just to see if they were comfortable, but to check they conformed to H&S standards. There is nothing more effective than taking this approach, as it quickly highlights problems with zips, collars and sleeves.

It’s also a good idea to road-test uniforms for materials that could potentially bring care workers out in a rash. At the same time, those responsible for buying uniforms should find out if staff are allergic to any mate- rials that could be used in uniforms. Finally, and this may seem an obvious point, but as a rule of thumb, managers responsible for purchasing should buy more uniforms than are actually required.

But care providers must also factor in uniform design too in the policies and procedures that they create. It’s important too that protocol is constantly updated. During the pandemic, for example, it has become customary for care professionals to wear PPE on top of their uniforms. In the early days of the crisis – particularly in the summer months – the combination of wearing full PPE and uniform, meant that many providers often finished shifts drenched in sweat. Outstanding providers, who have developed H&S policies in place, will have seen this – not as a challenge – but as an opportunity to purchase more light weight, but equally hard-wearing uniforms – for their staff.

Outstanding workwear and uniform policy must also take into account the setting and environment that a care professional is working in. If, for example, care staff experience challenging behaviour from service users on a regular basis, the uniform policies also need to be factored into the myriad of policies that front-line managers use to safeguard both staff and service user. Uniforms may be different in design to those in other settings. Essentially, ties, a lanyard or even a front pocket might be removed from workwear on health, safety and personal security grounds.

Those responsible for writing uniform policy must take care to think about every employee. It’s really important to note that not everyone working in the care sector is a frontline carer. Take those who work in logistics in care homes, for instance. The uniform requirements are very different. If a person is lifting boxes all day in a care home, for instance, the number one priority – in addition to conforming to IPC standards – is that they can carry out their work in reasonable comfort.

Chris Walker is head of Napthens Health & Safety team. He specialises in manual handling training and adds, “Policy makers need to carefully consider whether uniforms compromise movement. This may not seem a big issue, but if a person’s trousers are too tight, they won’t be able to pick up a box correctly. Wearing ill-fitting uniforms means there is more of a risk that the person tasked with lifting will use their back to pick up a box rather than their knees. So, something as simple as supplying staff with the correct fitting uniform can really make a difference in limiting manual handling type injuries. That said, ensuring a comfort- able dress code alone is only part of the solution. Manual handling training should always be undertaken.”

This example, and the others that I have mentioned in this piece, demonstrate that uniform protocols should never be treated as a separate entity. They are intrinsically linked to a vast array of policies and need to be considered holistically.

To find out more about QCS, contact our compliance advisors on 0333-405-3333 or email sales@qcs.co.uk.

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