Needlesticks are Still a Major Occupational Hazard in the US
Healthcare workers in the U.S. suffer many sharps injuries - mostly needlesticks - each year. It has been estimated that one out of every seven workers is accidentally stuck by a contaminated sharp each and every year!
Physicians are much less likely to report a needlestick injury than other healthcare professionals. Estimates indicate that approximately only one out of three needlesticks are even reported. According to NIOSH, "Today alone over 2,100 health care professionals will incur a needlestick related injury." [NIOSH Study, 1999]
From these sharps injuries there have been 57 documented cases of HIV seroconversion among healthcare personnel through 2001. Two thousand workers a year become infected with hepatitis C, and 400 contract hepatitis B. More than 20 additional types of infectious agents have been transmitted through needlesticks, including tuberculosis, syphilis, malaria, herpes, diphtheria, gonorrhea, typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Not Just a USA Problem
There are more than 100,000 needlestick injuries in UK hospitals each year. Needlestick injuries are virtually undocumented in many developing countries, but probably equal or exceed those in the industrial world. Some 10 million needles are used every year in the NHS in Scotland with around 4,000 needlestick injuries, two-thirds of which are suffered by nurses.
Healthcare workers worldwide are concerned about these accidental needlesticks and other sharps injuries resulting in life-threatening infections. Far too often, healthcare workers are becoming patients after being injured by contaminated medical sharps. These healthcare workers are contracting potentially deadly infections from sharps injuries that are largely preventable. Healthcare workers from other disciplines have received sharps injuries including: surgeons, anesthesiologists, cleaning staff, housekeeping staff, etc.
A recent survey in Britain uncovered 226 injuries due to discarded needles between 1995 and 1998 and 60% of those were injuries to government employees. However only 51% of local authorities had trained street sweepers and provided them with kits to protect them from discarded needles, and only 64% of local authorities had an official procedure to recover discarded needles if they were found by staff members. In addition, it is common knowledge that discarded needles are commonly found in parks, playing fields, beaches, public toilets, communal stairways and alleyways.
Thousands of Australian hospital workers suffer needle-stick injuries each year and the incidence is increasing. Doctors, nurses and scientists warn that the problem is far greater than statistics reveal, claiming that many injuries go unreported. Victorian Work Cover Authority figures show that the number of claims for needle-stick injuries in Australia jumped 12.6 per cent between 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Australian ambulance drivers indicate that needle-stick injuries are an occupational hazard them because they are often called to treat drug-overdose and psychiatric patients, the homeless, victims of severe trauma and the dying. The risk of occupational sharps injuries can confront ambulance workers while helping in car wrecks, toilets and dingy corridors when an ambulance officer has precious seconds to save a life.
Health care employers should do what they can to reduce needlestick injuries by incorporating improved engineering controls into a comprehensive program that:
Analyzes needlestick and other sharps-related injuries in the workplace to identify hazards and injury trends.
Sets priorities and strategies for sharps injury prevention by examining local and national information about risk factors for sharps injuries and successful methods of intervening.
Ensures the proper training of health care workers in the safe use and disposal of needles and other sharps.
Modifies work practices that potentially create sharps injury hazards to make them safer.
Promotes the awareness of safety in the work environment.
Establishes the proper procedures for reporting all needlestick and other sharps-related injuries.
Evaluates prevention effort effectiveness and provides feedback on prevention effort performance.