5 takeaways on needlestick injuries and health care worker safety

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of health care worker safety. But while infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 illustrate the gaps in protecting frontliners during emergency situations, health care workers regularly face a minefield of risks that are rarely considered, according to a post on the Devex website.

The prevalence and impact of needlestick injuries is an underrecognized global health issue OSHA estimates that 5.6 million workers in the health care industry are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. Injuries most often occur among nurses and surgeons, but OSHA has found that 25% of all injuries in health care facilities occur downstream to the nonoriginal user of the device, such as environmental service personnel and waste haulers.

Needlestick and other sharps-related injuries expose health care and hospital workers to bloodborne pathogens, a significant hazard for global health professionals. Any worker handling sharp devices or equipment, such as scalpels, sutures, hypodermic needles, blood collection devices, or phlebotomy devices, is considered to be at risk. According to a Devex survey, recapping needles is the top needlestick injury event, followed closely by drawing blood and using a solid sharp, such as a scalpel or suture.

Occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens due to sharps injuries is a well-known risk among health care workers and typically covered in pre-service education and regular workplace hazard training. In fact, almost all survey respondents acknowledge that needlestick and other sharps injuries can lead to infections such as HIV, HBV, and HCV. Linked to this awareness is the knowledge about preventing sharps injuries among health care professionals — the vast majority of the respondents are either very or extremely aware of the precautions against sharps injury.

PPE, safety-engineered devices, and sharps disposal containers have become instrumental in ensuring health care worker safety.

While awareness of the risks associated with needlestick and sharps-related injuries is high among health care workers, underreporting remains a significant issue regardless of location. According to the Devex survey, 61% of respondents believed other health care workers are underreporting needlestick and other sharps injuries. A lack of awareness of the proper reporting protocols was cited as the top reason for not reporting a needlestick injury. Reporting protocols vary at health facilities but underreporting often occurs due to stigmas attached to needlestick injuries, lack of awareness, or downplaying possible consequences.

Finally, reducing and mitigating needlestick injuries requires implementing certain protocols and regulations through consistent enforcement and sustained compliance. While many countries have legislation on needlestick and sharps-related injuries, the implementation of government regulations and laws has scope to improve.

Survey results indicate that while 71% of respondents believed current legislation, regulations, standards, and/or facility policies on preventing needlestick and other sharps injuries are effective, 40% believed they lack enforcement.

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