7 Standard Precautions In Nursing + How To Maintain

Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

A common question among nursing students or those considering becoming a nurse is, “What are standard precautions in nursing, and why are they important?" Whether you are a nursing student, a new nurse, or a seasoned nurse, it is imperative to ask and understand, “What should nurses do to maintain standard precautions in nursing?”

In this article, I will share 7 standard precautions in nursing and explain the importance of implementing them in daily practice. As you read, you will learn about the challenges nurses face using standard precautions and ways to overcome them, as well as the consequences that could occur when we do not use these practices.



Standard precautions in nursing refer to the basic level of infection control practices used by nurses providing patient care. Standard precautions should be used at all levels of patient care at all times. From basic handwashing to using sterile technique, wearing personal protective equipment, and practicing respiratory safety, standard precautions help improve patient, nursing, and organizational outcomes.


Maintaining standard precautions in nursing is the best way to defend patients and healthcare providers against infection, injury, and other health risks. In addition to reducing health risks, when standard precautions are used, there is less turnover in nursing staff, nurses feel more secure in their roles, and healthcare costs are reduced. The following are the top five reasons nurses should implement standard precautions in patient care.

REASON #1: Standard precautions reduce the risk of nosocomial infections.

Nosocomial infections are also referred to as hospital or healthcare-acquired infections. They are infections that patients did not have upon arriving for treatment but acquired during the process of receiving care. One of the main reasons it is crucial for nurses to practice standard precautions is so we can help reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, which improves patient and professional outcomes.

REASON #2: Standard precautions help protect nurses from the risk of exposure to harmful pathogens.

As nurses, we have an obligation to protect ourselves as well as our patients. When we maintain standard precautions in nursing, we reduce the risk of being exposed to harmful bacteria, viruses, and disease-causing pathogens. Nurses who protect themselves are able to provide patient care without risk of harming the patient due to their own illnesses or injuries.

REASON #3: Standard precautions help reduce healthcare costs.

Failure to use standard precautions in nursing leads to increased healthcare costs. For example, patients who acquire infections as a result of poor care need additional care, which increases costs. Nurses or others who are injured by inappropriate use or disposal of sharps need care, which could include wound care and tests to determine if they were exposed to diseases, such as HIV. By maintaining standard precautions in nursing, we reduce the risk of increased healthcare costs.

REASON #4: Using standard precautions in nursing helps reduce the risk of injury.

Standard precautions related to safe injection practices and sharps safety help decrease the risk of patients and staff being injured by needles and other sharp instruments. Simple steps, such as having a sharps container nearby when performing procedures and using safety injection needles, help reduce the risk of injuries.

REASON #5: Proper use of standard precautions helps improve patient outcomes.

Patients who receive care where standard precautions in nursing are used are less likely to develop secondary hospital-acquired infections or experience injuries related to their care. Without complications, these patients can focus on their primary reason for seeking care. With fewer issues to deal with, patients then have a better chance for positive health outcomes.


(The following are the 7 standard precautions in nursing and what nurses should do to maintain them.)


What is it:

Hand hygiene is the act of thoroughly washing your hands before and after patient care.

Why is it Important:

Hand hygiene is the first line of defense and the most essential standard precaution in nursing. Nurses who use good hand hygiene can reduce their risk of becoming ill and the risk of spreading infection from one patient to another.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

There are several types of hand hygiene, and they should be used according to your situation. For example, if you are assisting with surgical procedures, a surgical hand scrub is appropriate. When performing non-surgical or routine patient care, you can use an antimicrobial soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

STANDARD PRECAUTION #2: Respiratory Hygiene/Cough Etiquette

What is it:

Respiratory hygiene and proper cough etiquette are used to reduce the risk of transmission of pathogens spread by droplets or airborne routes of transmission.

Why is it Important:

Infectious bacteria and pathogens can be spread through the air or through water droplets that escape the mouth or nose when talking, sneezing, or coughing.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

The most obvious ways to demonstrate respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette are to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands immediately after doing so. Use tissues to cover your mouth or nose and dispose of them immediately.

Other ways to practice this standard precaution in nursing include providing face masks to patients and others with respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, or having a runny nose. Handwashing stations and other sources of hand hygiene, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers, should be in easily accessible areas.

STANDARD PRECAUTION #3: Use Of Personal Protective Equipment (E.G., Gloves, Face Masks, Protective Eye Wear, Face Shields, And Protective Clothing)

What is it:

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to any wearable equipment designed to protect nurses and other healthcare providers from contact with or exposure to infectious pathogens. PPE includes gowns, gloves, masks, eye shields, shoe covers, and medical caps.

Why is it Important:

Using personal protective equipment is a crucial step in using standard precautions in nursing. PPE is used to cover skin and personal clothing that could become soiled with blood, bodily fluids, and other infectious material.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

You can maintain standard precautions in nursing by using PPE in situations where exposure to mucous membranes, compromised skin, bodily fluids, and blood is possible.
For example, use a gown, gloves, or other protective clothing to protect your skin while performing or assisting in procedures where contact with blood or bodily fluids is likely. When procedures or patient care may cause sprays of blood or body fluids, wear face, nose, and eye coverings.

STANDARD PRECAUTION #4: Safe Injection Practices

What is it:

Safe injection practices are a type of standard precautions in nursing that promote the prevention of transmission of disease-causing pathogens when the preparation and administration of injections or intravenous therapies is needed.

Why is it Important:

Unsafe injection practices cause risk to patients and healthcare providers. Failure to use this standard precaution can lead to the outbreak and spread of bloodborne pathogens, such as bacterial infections, hepatitis, and HIV.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

Safe injection practices include using aseptic technique and using each syringe, needle, and fluid infusion administration set for only one patient. Other ways to implement this standard precaution include using single-dose vials of medication when possible and do not combine leftover medications from single-use vials. Additionally, if multidose vials are used, use a new sterile needle or cannula for each use.


What is it:

Sharps safety is the safe use and disposal of any sharp instrument, such as needles, lancets, and scalpels.

Why is it Important:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately 385,000 needlesticks and sharps-related injuries occur annually among hospital-based healthcare providers. Similarly, injuries occur in other healthcare settings, as well.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

There are several things you can do to maintain standard precautions in nursing regarding the use of sharps. First, if available, opt to use retractable needles, safety scalpels, blunt suture needles, and needleless blood transfer equipment and supplies.

Keep sharps disposal containers as close to your work area as possible and dispose of sharps in approved sharps disposal containers. Never leave sharps lying on a tray, table, or any other surface for others to use or pick up. Also, never attempt to recap a needle or other sharp instrument or hand them to another person.

STANDARD PRECAUTION #6: Clean And Disinfect Patient Care Equipment And Instruments/Devices

What is it:

Standard precautions in nursing also involve cleaning and disinfecting any equipment, instruments, or devices used in patient care.

Why is it Important:

Failure to thoroughly clean and disinfect patient care equipment can lead to cross-contamination from one patient to another patient or healthcare worker. It is essential to clean and disinfect any reusable item used in patient care and to store it properly after doing so.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

Items such as surgical instruments should be sterilized using heat, per facility protocol. Non-critical care items, such as blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, or otoscopes, should be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-hospital-approved disinfectant.

STANDARD PRECAUTION #7: Clean And Disinfect High Touch Surfaces

What is it:

Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch environmental surfaces is essential to maintain standard precautions in nursing. These areas include light switches, door handles, bedside tables, television remotes, bed controls, and telephones.

Why is it Important:

High-touch surfaces are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Just because a surface looks clean to the naked eye, that does not mean it is. When surfaces are touched, microorganisms can grow and be transferred to other surfaces, medical equipment, or people's skin.

What Should Nurses Do to Maintain It:

High-touch environmental surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected frequently. Areas should be cleaned daily with an approved detergent or cleanser and water, then rinsed and allowed to dry. After surfaces are clean and dry, spraying an EPA-approved disinfectant is also recommended.


Although we understand that using standard precautions in nursing is essential, there are times when nurses face challenges maintaining these standards. The following are seven of the biggest challenges nurses face when trying to maintain standard precautions and tips on how to address and overcome them.

CHALLENGE #1: Lack of Training About Proper Handwashing Technique

What is It:

Good handwashing is the first line of defense against spreading infections and disease. Because of that of all the standard precautions in nursing, I must admit seeing nurses who do not demonstrate proper handwashing techniques is a huge pet peeve for me.

How to Overcome:

Practicing proper handwashing technique is as simple as following simple steps. When washing hands, nurses should wash visibly dirty hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. You should wash your hands before and after patient care, eating, using the restroom, or coming into contact with a known infectious substance.

CHALLENGE #2: Exposure to Patients and Visitors with Respiratory Symptoms

What is It:

Despite our best efforts, there are times when we are exposed to patients and visitors experiencing respiratory symptoms. Without proper intervention and implementation of standard respiratory precautions, nurses can be affected and become ill, as well.

How to Overcome:

The most crucial step in maintaining standard precautions in nursing is education. Healthcare facilities should have visual alerts posted reminding patients and visitors to cover their cough and ask for a mask if they are experiencing respiratory symptoms.

If possible, patients with respiratory symptoms, especially those with fever, should be triaged and taken to an exam room away from other patients and staff. Nurses should wear masks and other personal protective equipment, as needed, to prevent exposure to airborne and droplet contaminants.

CHALLENGE #3: Personal Protective Equipment is Uncomfortable.

What is It:

If you have ever used personal protective equipment, you probably already know that it can be uncomfortable, especially if worn for extended periods. Gowns, gloves, and masks can cause you to feel hot, which can lead to early fatigue.

How to Overcome:

Although PPE may be uncomfortable to wear, at times, it is essential for nurses to understand the importance of using them and to know how to choose the proper personal protective equipment. Ill-fitting PPE can cause bunching of gowns, which could lead to experiencing thermal discomfort. Masks that are too tight can leave you feeling smothered. Choosing the right size and type of PPE can help reduce the risk of spreading infection that could occur from nurses choosing not to wear the equipment due to discomfort.

CHALLENGE #4: Patient Movement and Feeling Rushed When Giving Injections

What is It:

A few of the most common challenges when it comes to maintaining standard precautions in nursing that hinder injection safety are patient movement during the procedure or nurses feeling rushed. If a patient jerks away or has any sudden movement during the injection procedure, it could result in improper administration of the medication, breaking of needles, and putting the nurse at risk for a needle stick. Nurses who feel rushed when giving an injection could administer the medication too quickly or may inject the wrong area.

How to Overcome:

The first step in overcoming this challenge is to educate patients before giving an injection. Tell patients the type of injection they will receive and what part of the body the medicine will be administered to. Explain the importance of remaining still during the procedure to prevent injury.

Second, if you are ordered to give an injection, do not rush through the process. From the time you get the order to give an injection until the medication is administered and the sharps disposed of properly, you must take your time. Double-check the order for accuracy, use the proper procedure drawing up the injection, prepare the patient, and after administering the medication, dispose of sharps and other supplies appropriately.

CHALLENGE #5: Preventing Needlesticks and Other Sharps Injuries

What is It:

The safe use and disposal of sharps is one of the most critical issues related to standard precautions in nursing. According to the American Nurses Association, 13% of nurses have experienced at least one sharps-related injury in the last five years.

Sharps injuries can be the result of recapping a used needle, using overfilled sharps containers, and not having a sharps container close by for disposal of used needles.

How to Overcome:

To help reduce the risk of needlesticks and other sharps injuries, nurses should ensure a sharps disposal container is nearby where the procedure will be performed. Immediately discard the sharp after its use. Also, do not attempt to recap or bend needles, as these are two of the most common reasons that sharps injuries occur.

CHALLENGE #6: Trying to Provide Patient Care When There Are Not Enough Equipment or Supplies

What is It:

Unfortunately, some facilities struggle with providing enough equipment or supplies to care for the number of patients they have. When nurses rush from one patient to the next, especially in emergency situations, it can be challenging to find time to clean and disinfect equipment between use. Failure to do can increase the risk of spreading infections or diseases.

How to Overcome:

I understand that it can be challenging to have enough time to clean and disinfect equipment when you have so much else to do. However, the few minutes that it takes to clean and disinfect could make a difference in a patient's health outcomes. The best way to handle this challenge is to clean and disinfect any equipment you use immediately following its use.

CHALLENGE #7: Some Nurses Think Cleaning High Touch Areas Should Be Housekeeping’s Responsibility

What is It:

The challenge of cleaning high-touch areas is often related to busy schedules and being understaffed. As a nurse, I understand what it is like to work long shifts and be overloaded with patients. On those days when you feel stretched thin or overwhelmed, it can be easy to overlook things that seem small, such as wiping down and disinfecting high-touch environmental areas. However, to prevent the spread of infections and disease, everyone on the healthcare team should implement standard precautions.

How to Overcome:

Although your schedule may be full, it is possible to implement standard precautions to clean high-touch areas in your work environment. I like to suggest that nurses keep a pack of facility-improved disinfectant wipes on their carts or in their nursing bags. When you complete patient care in a room, take a minute to wipe down things you touched on your way out. For example, before handing the call light back to your patient, wipe it with a disinfectant wipe. Use the wipe to clean the side rails on the bed in just a few strokes, and wipe the light switch before throwing your wipes away and exiting the room.


Standard precautions in nursing are designed to protect everyone involved in patient care. Failure to follow guidelines for standard precautions and implement them in practice could lead to severe consequences. The following are five consequences of not maintaining standard precautions in nursing.

CONSEQUENCE #1: Increased Incidence of Spread of Diseases and Infections

When we fail to maintain standard precautions in nursing, we put patients, their families, our peers, and ourselves at risk. Whether you provide care without gloves, use inappropriate sharps safety measures, or don the wrong PPE, failure to follow guidelines for upholding standard precautions can lead to an increased risk of spreading diseases and infections.

CONSEQUENCE #2: Injury to Patients and Healthcare Providers

Another consequence of not using standard precautions is that it leads to an increased chance of injury to patients and healthcare providers. For example, nurses who try to recap a needle after giving an injection are at risk for a needlestick, which could lead to the spread of infection. Not providing personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, can lead to patients and nurses being exposed to blood and bodily fluids and lead to the spread of diseases or infections.

CONSEQUENCE #3: Loss of Job

Maintaining standard precautions in nursing helps protect your job security. Failure to follow standard precautions could lead to job loss, especially if it leads to an injury affecting you or your patient. When we follow guidelines for implementing standard precautions, risks are reduced. Therefore, if a preventable incident occurs, it could mean dire consequences for your job.

CONSEQUENCE #4: Disciplinary Action by the Board of Nursing

Nurses are not only accountable to their employers but must also answer to the State Board of Nursing when incidents occur. Depending on the circumstances, failure to follow standard precautions could lead to a disciplinary hearing and action by the Board of Nursing. If serious injury or the likelihood of serious injury occurs due to not using standard precautions, the Board could suspend or revoke your license to practice.

CONSEQUENCE #5: Poor Patient Outcomes

Standard precautions in nursing are designed to prevent the spread of infection and diseases and prevent injury. When we, as nurses, fail to implement standard precautions per guidelines, we not only put ourselves at risk but also put our patients in jeopardy of having unfavorable outcomes.


In this article, we discussed answers to the questions "What are standard precautions in nursing?” and “What should nurses do to maintain standard precautions in nursing?” As a nurse and healthcare educator, I can attest that understanding and implementing the 7 standard precautions in nursing featured in this article can make a significant impact on you, your practice, and your patients’ outcomes.

Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).