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Your keyboard may be more nasty than your toilet seat.

by Ryan Weiers

Keyboards can be pretty nasty. Everyone knows this, and in central sterile processing they can be downright dangerous, especially in the decontamination area.

The lethality of some bio hazards that come into decontamination require your staff to don full personal protection equipment (PPE) before they enter the room. No one would consider going into that environment and touching contaminated instruments without being fully covered. Everything in that room should be covered, or getting washed or disinfected regularly, right? What about your keyboards? You likely have gloved hands when you touch the keys, but those keys are going to transfer that bio-burden from your gloves right back to the next set of gloved hands that touch them, thereby passing those germs on to more surfaces. All that bacteria builds over time and increases the likelihood of something dangerous occurring. Wouldn’t it be great to wipe the slate clean on your keyboards after each shift and reduce the risk of an avoidable event occurring? It is the same  principal that drives the hand hygiene focus we all receive from infection control. You’ve heard those directives, right?

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This poster is displayed prominently in a staff break room. Did it work? See below.

 

Computers in the central sterile processing departments are becoming increasing prevalent with the adoption of instrument tracking systems, which often require at least minimal interaction with a keyboard. This presents a new challenge for managers. How do you keep those clean? How do you monitor their cleanliness? What are your protocols for cleaning keyboards? How do you show a surveyor that your process is being followed? Most importantly, how do you reduce the spread of viruses, bacteria and germs from the keys to the clean instruments and work surfaces around you?

Yes, keyboards surfaces can be cleaned with low-level disinfectant wipes. Many departments suggest or require this happens after every shift. Does it happen in your department? How do you know? Most managers concede it does not happen consistently enough.

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This keyboard is three feet away from the poster above.

 

Even when keyboards are cleaned, the cracks and crevices around the keys make it very hard to clean them properly. Have you ever looked deep in between your keys? Have you ever flipped your keyboard over and tapped the gunk out? It is pretty nasty, and that’s just the stuff you are getting.  You can use pressurized air to blow a lot of that stuff out, but then it is just getting spread around your department. Not good. What are you to do?

 

There are a few solutions on the market:

First, there are washable keyboards that can be submersed in water to clean them. They do a good job of clearing most of the bio-burden from the keyboards, but you need two or three keyboards for each station in order to keep a clean and dry keyboard available for each shift. It can be a bit of hassle to disconnect, reprocess, dry and reconnect that keyboard every time. In reality, the keyboards do not get washed often or well enough.

Next are custom keyboard covers. These reusable covers are molded to fit your specific keyboard. They provide nice protection and allow generally unencumbered keystrokes. The challenges are a) locating covers that fit your keyboard types, which likely vary among areas of your department and b) they still have to be reprocessed, presenting a similar challenge to washable keyboards. Also, like washable keyboards they can be expensive, especially when you account for a two or three multiplier supply required to keep a fresh cover on each keyboard for each shift.

Universal Keyboard Covers are a new option. They are economical, cover your entire keyboard surface and can be quickly removed and discarded after each shift. They act as PPE for your keys. The drawback is they can be slightly cumbersome to use at first. Keystrokes can be more of a challenge with a cover, but with time staff learn to use them effectively, especially given the limited number of keystrokes required. It is PPE after all, they’re not as comfortable or easy to use as using nothing, but the mild inconvenience may prevent the spread of a nasty infection or virus. In central sterile processing - especially in the decontamination area - the trade off makes sense.

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Keyboard covers are an extension of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

 

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