Sharps Injuries: Risks, Precautions, and Legal Considerations
3rd July 2023
In the realm of healthcare, safety measures play a paramount role in ensuring the well-being of both patients and healthcare professionals. Alongside the significance of proper handling and disposal of sharp medical instruments, prioritising safety protocols is crucial. Maintaining a high standard of safety not only safeguards individuals from potential harm but also contributes to the responsible management and disposal of sharps. By adhering to stringent safety practices, we can create a secure environment that promotes the efficient utilisation and appropriate disposal of sharp medical items.
Sharps injuries represent a well-known occupational hazard within the healthcare and social care sector. Contaminated sharps, such as needles and blades, can transmit over 20 diseases, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The potential transmission risk associated with sharps injuries causes significant concern and stress for the thousands of individuals affected by these incidents.
Sharps encompass a variety of medical instruments, including needles, scalpels, and other tools required for healthcare procedures. These instruments have the potential to cause injury by cutting or piercing the skin.
Defining Sharps Injuries
A sharp injury occurs when a needle, scalpel, or other medical instrument penetrates the skin, commonly known as a percutaneous injury.
Recommended Actions for Sharps Injuries
If you experience a sharps injury that may involve contamination, it is important to follow these steps:
- Allow the wound to gently bleed while holding it under running water, if possible.
- Cleanse the wound thoroughly using plenty of soap and running water.
- Refrain from scrubbing the wound during the cleaning process.
- Do not attempt to suck or extract anything from the wound.
- Dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof plaster or dressing.
- Seek urgent medical advice, preferably from your occupational health service, as effective prophylaxis (medications to prevent infection) are available.
- Report the injury to your employer to ensure proper documentation and follow-up.
The primary risk associated with sharps injuries involves potential exposure to blood-borne viruses (BBVs) when the sharp object is contaminated with a patient’s blood or bodily fluids. Hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are among the most concerning blood-borne viruses.
The transmission of infections depends on various factors, including the individual’s immune system. Although the number of sharps injuries is significant, only a small percentage leads to severe illnesses. Nevertheless, the physical and psychological impact of such injuries, along with concerns about potential consequences and the side effects of post-exposure prophylaxis, can significantly affect affected employees.
Workers in the healthcare and social care sectors, including those directly handling sharps, as well as individuals exposed to risks due to incorrect storage or disposal practices, are particularly vulnerable to sharps injuries.
Health and safety laws apply to sharps injuries, just as they do to other occupational risks. Relevant legislation includes:
- the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002,
- Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999,
- Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR),
- Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013.
These regulations aim to prevent sharps injuries in the healthcare and hospital sectors, and they pertain to employers, contractors, and workers in the healthcare industry.
For comprehensive guidance on compliance with these regulations, you can refer to the Health Services Information Sheet 7 – Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013. Additionally, the Research Report RR1127 offers valuable insights into the post-implementation review (PIR), including interviews, focus groups, and online surveys conducted among healthcare.
If you are responsible for managing a healthcare facility and are seeking reliable solutions for the collection, storage, and disposal of medical instruments, Affordable Waste Management is here to assist you. We provide comprehensive management services for medical waste, ensuring a seamless cycle from collection to disposal. By entrusting us with the responsibility of managing your clinic’s medical waste, you can focus on delivering quality care to your patients.