Protecting yourself and workers from needlestick injuries

In my last article, I gave some information on needlestick injuries and the diseases one can get from exposure to an infected needle. This article will give some advice on how to protect your workers from Needlestick injuries. But first, let’s look at some of the factors that contribute to accidental needlestick injuries.

  • Working condition: Reduction in staff levels leaves staff with more work and possibly -less time to accomplish their tasks. This can result in staff trying to carry out their tasks “fast” and hence increases the chances of accidental needlestick injury.
  • Difficult patient situations: Dealing with a patient with challenging behaviour or a little child scared of the sight of a needle combined with reduced staffing can also result in accidental needlestick injuries.
  • Reduced lighting conditions: This is usually present during the evening and night shifts.
  • Recapping policies and practices: tends to have a direct effect on frequency of needlestick injuries.
  • Staff experience: less experienced staff incurs accidental needlestick injuries more frequently than more experienced staff. Training and supervision can help manage this situation.

So how do you manage these factors?

There is no one single strategy that will reduce the number of needlestick injuries. Having a risk assessment and a safety system of work is first and foremost the most important factor to consider. The employer has a duty to provide a safe work environment, to educate all employees regarding the risk of infections, and to enforce reporting of all incidents including all exposure to patients’ body fluids. Employees should be trained on how and who to report injuries to. Report all needlestick injuries. Injuries that go unreported or even an insufficient follow-up may result in an unidentified infection, which could be a potential hazard for other employee and your patients.

A combination of the following methods can also help reduce the risk of needlestick injuries:

Training: Healthcare workers will always require regular educational/training updates on universal precautions, handling and disposal of sharps, and reporting of inoculation injuries. However, these educational/training strategies alone are insufficient to sustain healthcare workers’ knowledge and maintain a continued reduction in the number of needlestick injuries.

Safety Devices and/or Adhering to Guidelines: A research carried by a group of researcher in 2006 to estimate the proportion of reported occupational needlestick injuries sustained by National Health Service (NHS) Scotland discovered that these injuries can be prevented through safety device introduction, improved guideline adherence, guideline revision or a combination of all factors. Needlestick injuries can significantly be prevented through safety device usage and guideline adherence. Research has also found that new needle designs can provide safer methods for covering contaminated needles. Devices designed in a way that the worker’s hands remain behind the needle as it is covered reduces the need for recapping needles and then lower the risk of needle-stick injuries.

Appropriate Disposal: Separation of the needle from syringe should also be avoided as there is a risk of spillage and sharps injury. Used syringes should be disposed of immediately in an appropriate sharps container and should never be disposed of in normal bins (bedroom bins, kitchen bins, bathroom bins, etc). They should never be left lying around as they can be picked up by an unsuspecting individual. The HSE advises that sharp containers should never be overfilled. In many communities, reuse of needles and syringes are very common. It should be assumed that all used needles are infected and disposed of properly after use.

Needleless Intravenous systems: Blunt needles do not penetrate the skin and can therefore replace needles. Although, they may require a lot more pressure to penetrate tissues.

Remember, needlestick injuries are a recognized source of exposure to blood-borne viruses for workers in the health care sector. Although many pathogens may be transmitted through needlestick injuries, hepatitis B virus (HBV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) seem to be of the most concern. The risks cannot be completely eliminated, but measures can be taken to reduce the risks significantly.