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May 15, 2014
One hospital's prescription for reducing needlestick injuries: What can you learn?

Each year, hospital employees experience 385,000 needlestick and related injuries. That’s about 1,000 injuries per day. More than 40 percent of these occur during the use of sharp devices on patients. Keep reading to learn about one hospital’s strategy for dramatically reducing the number of needlesticks.

Officials at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) in New Jersey reported that a large number of needlestick injuries (NSIs) were occurring with a forward-shielding safety device. RWJUH health and wellness director Doris L. Dicristina said her first instrinct was to retrain employees in using the equipment. But she learned that most of the injuries were taking place after users removed the needles from patients’ veins and before they activated the safety mechanism. This led her to believe the equipment was the problem.

Writing in the Spring 2014 issue of the Journal of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare, Dicristina says the hospital switched to a retracting needle that offers quick, in-vein safety activation. The result was a 70 percent drop in sharps injuires after converting to the new device, which is manufactured by BD.

“Part of a strong organizational and institutional safety culture is the willingness to take a systematic, data-driven approach to investigating and addressing these issues,” said Dicristina. Although the new equipment was more costly, the significant decline in injuries represented a substantial return on investment.

Are you protecting your employees from needlestick injuries?

A needlestick or cut from a contaminated sharp can result in a worker being infected with HIV, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, and other bloodborne pathogens. OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) identifies measures to reduce injuries and the risk of infection.

Here’s what’s required:

  • Employers must consider and use safer medical devices, whenever possible. These include devices that are needleless or have built-in protection. Also, employers must ask non-managerial workers for their input on work practices and engineering controls.
  • Employers must ensure that contaminated sharps are disposed of in disposal containers immediately or as soon as feasible after use.
  • Contaminated sharps must never be sheared or broken. Recapping, bending, or removing needles is permissible only if there is no feasible alternative or if these actions are required for a specific procedure.
  • Containers for contaminated sharps must be puncture-resistant and leak proof. They must be labeled or color-coded to warn of hazardous contents.
  • Before sharps disposal container are removed or replaced, they must be closed to prevent the contents from spilling.
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