Every day while caring for the sick and injured, hundreds of thousands of nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers put themselves at risk for a needlestick or sharps injury. This is a serious health hazard that exists within any healthcare setting in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 385,000 sharps-related injuries each year among healthcare providers in the workplace with 23 percent of them occurring in a surgical setting. This is equivalent to more than 1,000 injuries a day. These types ofworkplace injuries can have severe consequences for healthcare workers. The risk of an occupational exposure and the transmission of bloodborne pathogens or microorganisms are of major concern. These workplace injuries can lead to the exposure and development of numerous infections or diseases with some of them posing a potentially life-threatening or even fatal risk.
Sharps Injuries Significant Health Hazard for Healthcare Workers
A sharps injury occurs when an object such as a syringe, suture needle, scalpel, glass, surgical tool or any other sharp item causes a penetrating wound in the skin carrying with it a risk of exposure to blood or other bodily fluids. Sharps injuries are more likely to happen in several different situations including when needles are being manipulated in a patient, passing a needle or specimen to another worker, not disposing of a contaminated needle properly in a puncture proof container, transferring body fluids between containers or even when co-workers collide into one another while handling a sharp. The recapping of needles is still recognized as a source of injury despite the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prohibiting this dangerous practice. In addition, working conditions such as low staffing and heavy work pressure can contribute to needlestick injuries.
The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was passed and signed into law in the year 2000 to provide healthcare workers with increased protection against occupational exposures such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, malaria and numerous other infectious diseases. This law requires employers to use safer needle devices with built-in engineered sharps injury prevention technology. In addition, employers must have an exposure control plan, maintain a sharps injury log, and have ongoing procedures to identify, evaluate and select safe and effective needle devices with input solicited from employees who are involved directly in patient care. Although the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act has helped to decrease the number of needlestick injuries in healthcare facilities, there are still injuries occurring too often.
Procedures to Follow After a Sharps Injury
If you sustain a needlestick or sharps injury, take the following actions:
- Immediately wash any puncture wounds with soap and water
- Report the accident to your supervisor immediately
- Determine the infection status of the patient’s blood or fluids you were exposed to
- Get tested for the more common diseases transmitted through a sharps or needlestick injury such as HIV and hepatitis
- If post-exposure preventative drug therapy is recommended, take medication as prescribed
- Keep your own records. Document the details of your exposure.
- Get the necessary follow up care and testing that is recommended.
- Seek counseling if needed.
Individuals who experience a needlestick or sharps injury are likely to suffer from a great deal of anxiety and emotional distress while waiting for test results to be confirmed.
If you are a medical employee working with syringes, needles and other sharp objects, it is imperative for you to take the proper safety precautions to ensure you do not suffer a workplace injury. Get a hepatitis B vaccination. If possible use needleless devices or at least needles that have built in safety mechanisms. Be attentive when handling anything sharp and use caution in patients that may react suddenly. Wear gloves if you are working with contaminated needles or there is a potential for exposure to a patient’s blood or other body fluids. Never leave needles unattended. Participate in any educational programs or hands-on training sessions that emphasize the correct use of any sharp devices used in your healthcare institution. Never recap a contaminated needle and dispose of all sharps in their proper puncture-resistant containers. Report needlestick hazards or injuries to your supervisor.
Consult with an Experienced and Knowledgeable Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Similar to workers in other industries, employees in healthcare settings who suffer from an occupational exposure from a needlestick or sharps injury are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits to help cover the cost of medical expenses, lost income and other damages. It is important to seek guidance from a competent Workers’ Compensation lawyer who understands the application process, eligibility requirements and what compensation an injured worker may be entitled to receive.
Sharps and needlestick injuries are preventable. Despite considerable progress in better product designs, legislative policies and safer practices, these workplace injuries continue to be a serious hazard to healthcare workers. The Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at the injury law firm of Schmidt, Kirifides & Rassias are committed to protecting the rights of injured workerswho have suffered an occupational needlestick injury. We believe that healthcare workers such as nurses and doctors do not need to risk their lives each time they use a needle or sharps device. Healthcare institutions need to be committed to protecting their employees with safer needleless devices and injury prevention programs.
If you or someone you love has experienced a needlestick or sharps injury in a Philadelphia area hospital or other healthcare facility, or has been the victim of another workplace injury, do not hesitate in calling the skilled and qualified Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Schmidt, Kirifides & Rassias.