Last week I talked with someone who had just experienced a needlestick injury at work. She was devastated, embarrassed and frightened that it had happened to her. Though she had completed training on bloodborne pathogens, she had never actually been trained to remove the needle from the device she was using. Thankfully for her, she had been vaccinated for Hepatis B, and this week learned that the source blood didn’t carry HIV, or Hep B or C.
Nearly 400,000 U.S. healthcare workers experience accidental needlestick injuries every year – with some estimating an even higher number. This likely doesn’t account for the smaller number that may occur in research. OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen and needlestick prevention standard requires employers to implement an exposure control plan for the worksite that details employee protection measures. This plan should include both engineering, such as using safer medical devices like needleless devices and shielded needle devices, and work practice controls to reduce or eliminate exposures. And this includes, of course, evaluating and selecting appropriate safer needle devices and training staff on how to safely and effectively use those devices.
Most needlestick injuries result from unsafe needle devices rather than carelessness by health care workers. We know that safer needle devices have been shown to significantly reduce needlesticks and potential exposure to diseases carried by the blood. Recognize that needlestick injuries can also cause significant psychological distress, even if the injury doesn’t result in exposure to a disease. At least one study has found people who suffer sharps injuries may also endure substantial or persistent psychiatric illness or depression often associated with the time it takes for the victim to learn the outcome of their blood testing.
So what can you do? Evaluate your exposure control plan – especially the training that staff are getting. Review your records and check in with your staff to see how well this hazard is controlled in your workforce. And as always – look for ways to take your program to the next level.