April 07 2013 Blog Accidental Needlesticks in Healthcare

Last week we talked about drug resistant infections and how Hoosiers can stay healthy and safe from things like MRSA in their workplace. This week, we’re going to work on fighting the transmission of blood borne pathogens.

It’s a fact of life in the healthcare field – it’s pretty hard to avoid working with blood in one way or another. On any given day, you could be exposed to sharps—syringes, scalpels, etc., full sample vials, injured patients, body fluid clean up procedures and many other risk factors.

Unfortunately, exposure to those elements also means possible exposure to blood borne diseases like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). For all situations, you need to make sure you are utilizing the personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for your activity. That might be as little as wearing gloves or as much as a full body suit with a face mask. You don’t want to be affected by these kinds of life changing dangers.
A special situation is when working with sharps. According to the CDC needlesticks and other contaminated sharps related injuries account for more than 600,000 instances every year.

How do you avoid it?

Start with something simple. Make sure used sharps containers are emptied when they’re two-thirds full. An overflowing sharps container is a recipe for trouble.
Since 1991 OSHA has required employers to maintain an exposure control plan, including reporting systems and engineering solutions, to help keep their employees safe from exposure to contaminated medical items.

In 2001 congress passed the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. This act did not add any additional requirements, but it clarified employer’s responsibility. Employers are required to use safety medical devices whenever one is available to substitute for a standard medical item.
For example, safety engineered sharps have things like: one-time use retractable needles, safety shields around the needle, needleless systems and many other options. These safer medical devices have been shown to reduce the number of needlestick incidents and protect workers from exposure to contaminated blood. If you aren’t using safety systems like these, talk to your management and see if they are available.  

Some healthcare professionals object to the safety systems because they often involve an extra step – pushing a button to release the needle, twisting the barrel of the syringe or sometimes needing to apply more pressure to trigger the safety system. That extra step might add a few more seconds to the process or require a slightly different technique. When you’re as busy as our healthcare workers are, some don’t like adding more time to a procedure. But, it’s important to remember that the safety devices are not only an OSHA requirement, but they are a good idea. It’s just not worth it to be exposed to life-changing bloodborne diseases to save a few seconds.

For more information

•To create your own safety program concerning the sharps around your workplace, visit the CDC’s Sharps Injury Prevention Program page here.
• OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen help page can be found here.
• OSHA’s complete bloodborne pathogen ruling can be found here.
• OSHA’s needlestick FAQ is here.
• OSHA’s 2001 needlestick revision can be found here

Stay Safe.
Indiana Department of Labor