Safe Needles Save Lives
Contact with sharps is an inevitable part of nursing life, but the consequences of poor needlestick practice can be devastating - for nurses and patients. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has fought to shed light on the issue, and protect nurses through improved legislation.
For 26 years I was a staff nurse and loved my practice. But one day at work in the summer of 1998, I was stuck by a needle protruding from a sharps container. I didn’t know it then, but my life was changed forever that day. A few months later I learned that the fatigue, weight loss, and other symptoms were due to Hepatitis C and HIV, that I had contracted from that needlestick. In the beginning, I didn’t know if I’d survive or what my life would be like. One thing I was sure of is that this injury was preventable – and I didn’t want to see this happen to anyone else.
The law as it stands
Currently, the primary legislation covering sharps safety is the 1999-2000 Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. This landmark legislation updated the Office of Safety And Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, compelling employers to use work practice controls and safer needle devices that are engineered to eliminate or minimize exposure to bloodborne pathogens resulting from needlestick injuries.
As a result of the act, employers must:
- Demonstrate that they are reviewing new technology that can reduce risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens by updating exposure control plans and documenting the decision-making process on implementing such technology.
- Maintain a sharps injury log to track the type and brand of device used, the department or area where the incident occurred, and an explanation of the incident. The log must be maintained in a manner to protect the confidentiality of the injured employee.
- Solicit input from employees responsible for direct patient care in the identification, evaluation, and selection of effective safety devices and work practice controls, as part of the ongoing exposure control plan development process. Efforts to encourage staff input must be documented in the plan.
Moving things forward
In December of 2020, the International Safety Center released its Moving the Sharps Safety in Healthcare Agenda Forward in the United States: 2020 Consensus Statement and Call to Action. It includes data on rates of injury and circumstances surrounding sharps injuries, an outline of the requirements of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, a list of facility-based measures and controls for injury and exposure prevention, and much more. ANA is proud to have been a contributor to this statement as part of the Sharps Injury Prevention Stakeholder group in collaboration with the International Safety Center.
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