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Locker Room Talk: Caring for Your Sterile Processing Teams Before, During, and After Work

The first place a sterile processing professional steps foot in to start their day is the department locker room. In fact, it’s also the last place they leave before heading home. What do they find there? Does the space send signals they are valued, respected, and supported? Or is this space saying something completely different?

Although the department locker room has no reprocessing equipment in it, limited regulatory oversight, and is largely unsupervised, locker rooms are the professional bookend for every single technician who works on your team. Sterile processing days start and end here, so it is well worth considering how the quality of your locker room may be positively or negatively impacting your department’s culture.

A clean space for the teams who clean
One of the biggest practical failures we hear of when considering locker rooms is the cleanliness factor. There are at least five primary areas to pay special attention to:

  1. Bathrooms: Because locker room bathrooms are typically not accessible to patients, they can easily get ignored or deprioritized by environmental cleaning teams. Ensure they are being regularly addressed and kept up to the same standards as other bathrooms in the facility.
  2. Inside lockers: Even though lockers are a more private area, they can still become unruly and dirty. Placing “department shoes” inside lockers along with street clothes, pens, and other personal items is a clear recipe for cross-contamination. These should be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  3. On top of lockers: In visiting departments around the country, we often see locker tops filled with dust, debris, and trash. Again, even though this area is not patient accessible, there’s no excuse for that level of grime in our space. These surfaces should be included in the regular cleaning duties of your environmental cleaning team.
  4. Trash cans: Sterile processing technicians create a lot of trash with disposable personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hair covers, shoe covers, beard covers, and disposable jackets. These can overflow a trash can quickly, so take care to have appropriate-size containers for the amount of trash created each day to ensure these do not overflow.
  5. Floors: Technicians walk in and out of locker rooms throughout the day, tracking in whatever happens to be on the hospital and department floors. This means the locker room floor is naturally a potentially contaminated area to begin with. Add in any other items (such as shoes) that may be stored on the floor, and the cleanliness of the floors can easily get out of hand. Make it a point to regularly have the floors in the area swept, mopped, stripped, and waxed so that it does not become, ummm, gross.

What we need, where we need it
In addition to clean locker rooms, sterile processing professionals also need certain things in this space. Most importantly is a well-stocked selection of hospital scrubs. This seems to be a systemic challenge in facilities across the country, but appropriate sizes of scrubs is one of those obvious must-haves to show our technicians that we care about them looking and feeling professional. It is not okay to shrug your shoulders and force employees into sizes of uniforms they are not comfortable with.

Similar stocking tips include having adequate shoe covers (if required) and sizes available in these areas. If you hear reports from staff of consistent outages or trouble finding the correct size, take the proactive step of increasing your supply ordering and par levels to keep up with the demand. If these items are required, they should be provided—end of story.

If your facility allows for reusable outer coverings (such as white lab coats), ensure you have enough hooks available to allow for staff to hang these when not in use. Relatedly, you should hardwire your policy related to the cleaning and laundering of these types of outer coverings according to your department or facility policy to ensure they do not become long-standing carriers of contamination.

On a more practical note, adequate sitting areas in a staff locker room where changing is expected to occur is common sense, yet often overlooked. Think about your typical shift change. If you have five technicians who may be clocking out and six others who may be clocking in at the same time, that gives you a total of eleven potential seats needed for changing in and out of scrubs. You may not need a full eleven spots, but a small bench that can only fit three adults at any one time is an unreasonable expectation for team of that size.

Trust, but verify (with locks)
We do not like to think that safety would ever be a problem among our team members in sterile processing, but unfortunately, human nature begs to differ. While personal safety is not usually a challenge in our locker rooms, the safety of our personal items can often be a perennial issue if not taken into account in the design and management of these areas. The most common items to be stolen are shoes, electronics, and cash. Shoes are the most obvious, since these are sometimes left beneath benches, on top of lockers, or even inside lockers that are not secured with a lock. Electronics and cash are typically taken from inside lockers or jackets that have not been secured.

On its face, the solution to this seems fairly straightforward—just put everything in a locker with a lock. However, there are two considerations here that must be dealt with to get us there. First, sharing of lockers is a common solution for space-constrained departments. Unfortunately, this practice makes it difficult to ensure that only those staff members who are assigned to that locker have access to or the ability to get into the lockers where these personal items are kept. Second, using (and reusing) combination locks introduces the risk that the combination will be intentionally or inadvertently shared, opening an opportunity for others to access to the locker without consent.

The best solution for this issue is to assign one staff member per locker, use only keyed locks, and require staff to keep all valuables (including shoes) inside their lockers at all times. This is really the only means to ensure that what is left in the locker room will still be there when staff return at the end of their shift.

Ready to rumble and ready to go home proud
Well-ordered and well-managed locker rooms do not happen by accident. Hopefully, this short article has given you a few insights to better equip and maintain this important space for those frontline heroes who show up each and every day ready to rumble with microscopic bad boys seeking to do our patients harm. This area should welcome these heroes in and send them home proud of the hard day’s work they put in to further the mission of fighting dirty, every instrument, every time.

What say you?


Feature articles exclusively for Ultra Clean Systems by Weston “Hank” Balch, BS, MDiv, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL

Weapon of Mass Microbial Destruction * Professional Clean Freak * Podcast Host * Safety Addict * CS/SPD Consultant

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