Needle and Sharps Safety
During FY 2010, there were several incidents of needle sticks reported to the Occupational Medicine Clinic. One involved uncapping of a tightly fitting needle cap, another involved a needle dangling from an experimental apparatus and two involved work with rodents.
What are needle stick injuries?
Needle stick injuries are wounds caused by needles that accidentally puncture the skin. Needle stick injuries are a hazard for people who work with hypodermic syringes and other needle equipment. These injuries can occur at any time when people use, disassemble, or dispose of needles. When not disposed of properly, needles can become concealed and injure other workers who encounter them unexpectedly.
What are the hazards of needle stick injuries?
Accidental punctures by contaminated needles can inject hazardous and/or radioactive fluids into the body through the skin. There is potential for injection of hazardous drugs, but injection of infectious fluids, especially blood, is by far the greatest concern. Even small amounts of infectious fluid can spread certain diseases effectively.
How do needle stick injuries occur ?
A needle stick injury is the result of an accident with a needle. Several studies show that needles cause injuries
at every stage of their use, disassembly, or disposal. But there is disagreement as to why the accidents are so common
among health care workers or why simple solutions fail to solve the problem.
Nature of Procedure
Critical situations during laboratory procedures include:
Injuries commonly occur when workers try to do several things at the same time, especially while disassembling or disposing of needles.
New staff or students tend to have more needle stick injuries than experienced staff.
Recapping and Uncapping
Recapping and uncapping can account for 25 to 30 percent of all needle
stick injuries of laboratory staff.
Often, it is the single most common cause.
Several agencies have recommended that workers avoid recapping needles before disassembly or disposal.
Despite this, some health care workers have continued the practice even when informed of the dangers.
In some cases, inappropriate training or force of habit may be responsible.
Needle stick injuries commonly occur when workers dispose of needles. They occur when staff use special containers for needles and sharps. They also occur when needles are disposed of improperly in regular garbage or lost in the workplace.
Up to 30 percent of needle stick injuries of nursing and laboratory staff occur when workers attempt to dispose of needles using sharps containers. Accidents occur at every step:
Virtually all needle stick injuries of maintenance and custodial staff are from needles that have either been lost in the workplace or thrown into regular garbage. Janitors and garbage handlers can also experience needle stick injuries or cuts from "sharps" when handling trash that contains needles or scalpels.
How can needle stick injuries be prevented?
Preventing needle stick injuries is the most effective way to protect workers from the infectious diseases that needle stick accidents transmit. A comprehensive needle stick injury prevention program would include:
If, in fact hypodermic needles are not a necessity for the work you are doing, please refrain from using them. For example, I’ve witnessed several individuals in the past that use hypodermic needles (sans the syringe) as dissection pins. “T-Handle” dissection pins offer great control and the blunter and wider needle point is more forgiving in case of accidents.
Safer innovative devices using protected needle devices or needle-free systems with self-sealing ports would alleviate many of these injuries. There is accumulating evidence suggesting that syringes with safety features reduce needle stick injuries.
To reduce needle stick injuries, an effective program must include employee training. Workers need to know how to properly use, assemble, disassemble, and dispose of needles. Workers need to understand the risks associated with needlestick injuries and know the proper means to prevent them. Specifically, the training programs should address:
The following guidelines deal specifically with needle safety:
In situations where recapping is considered necessary, develop safe approaches which workers can follow. Workers should never move an exposed needle tip towards an unprotected hand.
Several devices are available for recapping needles safely. Some devices permit single-handed recapping by parking a needle cap on a flat surface. Other devices are designed to protect the hand that holds the cap during two-handed recapping procedures. As yet, most products have not received independent testing and the two-handed recapping process remains a cause for concern. Recapping devices require further investigation. They may provide a practical solution for situations where recapping is considered necessary.
Last Modified: December 22, 2010