Noise stresses hospital staff

Last updated 05:00 04/08/2014

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Christchurch Hospital staff are wearing earplugs to block out noise and are complaining of stress as earthquake repairs drag on.

Strengthening work on the lower ground floor of the hospital's clinical services building has also interrupted procedures and, in one case, caused a flood.

The incidents were highlighted in a Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) report tabled last week.

Nurses and doctors working in orthopaedic outpatients, radiology and child assessment units in the building have reported high stress levels because of construction noise.

In one incident, a concrete drill pierced the floor of a room where a sick child was being treated.

In another, workers accidentally set off a fire sprinkler, causing a flood "disrupting services across a wide part of the campus", the report said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) Christchurch organiser Christin Watson said noise from concrete drilling was louder and had gone on longer than staff anticipated.

Sound levels had been measured and were exceeding safe levels, Watson said.

"Because they were using hammer drills to take out windows and it's pretty constant, it's really difficult to work. Some people are wearing earmuffs and earplugs, and it's just really, really challenging."

A meeting between CDHB senior management and affected staff was held in June and measures were put in place to address the noise impact.

Earplugs were distributed and a plan to halt the noise for 15 minutes each hour was introduced, Watson said.

Christchurch Hospital director of nursing Heather Gray said staff were given a phone number to call with a stopwork request while complex procedures were done.

Watson said many staff felt frustrated and stressed and the work affected patients.

"Some of the procedures are quite complex. You have to be able to hear things going on. If there is loud noise you can't run a procedure, so that would mean [a patient] would have to wait longer."

CDHB chief executive David Meates said noise levels had been tested and shown to reach 88 decibels.

New Zealand regulations state employers must take "all practicable steps" to ensure no employee is exposed to noise above 85 dBA for more than eight continuous hours, whether or not they wear protection.

Meates said it was difficult to quantify the impact on every staff member as noise tolerances varied.

The noisiest work had finished, but strengthening would continue in stages until 2019.

Meates said the situation was undesirable, but unavoidable. "You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy, but we have to deliver these services to the community."

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Every alternative had been considered, but because of the special requirements of many wards, staying put and repairing the buildings was the best option.

"In an ideal world we would close the whole building and move the services somewhere else and we would love to have that luxury. The challenge is that we don't," Meates said.

Wellbeing services, including exercise classes and financial advice, were developed for staff soon after the quake repair work started.

Effort was made to co-ordinate the work to minimise the impact on staff and patients.

The workers who drilled through the floor during a child's treatment thought the assessment had finished, he said.

"Luckily the event was under the resuscitation trolley and not under the staff or parents' feet," the report said.

Meanwhile, the repair of cracked floors at Christchurch Women's Hospital will take until September 4 to complete.

The impact of the work would include noise from grinding, chemical smells and dust created by grinding of concrete and resin, the report said. Extraction and containment systems would be in place.

- The Press


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