Sharps Injury Risks and Prevention

Sharps injury - A needlestick injury

The term 'sharps' refers to medical and clinical equipment like needles, syringes, and blades. This equipment poses a health and safety concern. Its sharp nature carries the possibility of injury and the potential exposure to bloodborne diseases. Anyone who works with sharps or in an environment where sharps are present should understand the risks and how to avoid injury.

In this article, we will learn what sharps are, what the risks are and how to stay safe. We will also address what to do if you or one of your colleagues experiences a sharps injury and what provisions exist to protect the safety of those who work with sharps.

What are sharps?

Sharps are items with sharp edges or points that can cause injury or transmit infectious diseases. In healthcare settings, sharps include medical instruments like:

  • Needles
  • Syringes
  • Lancets
  • Scalpels

Sharps are primarily used in health care procedures like administering injections. Sharps exist in other industries, like laboratories, research, tattooing and body piercing.

Sharps must be stored, handled, and disposed of correctly to avoid injuries and infections.

What is a sharps injury and how does it happen?

A sharps injury refers to any puncture wound or cut caused by a sharp object, such as needles, scalpels, or razors. It commonly occurs in healthcare settings when handling medical instruments or disposing of used needles without proper precautions.

Mismanagement of sharps can cause a ‘needlestick’ injury. A needlestick injury involves the skin barrier being broken by the sharp. The damage may cause pain and bleeding. Injury from a used needle also carries the risk of transmitting a bloodborne virus (BBV). Bloodborne diseases can be serious, such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV.

Where are sharps injuries likely to occur?

Sharps injuries are the most likely to occur in medical settings like patient wards, operating rooms and recovery areas. Common scenarios include when healthcare professionals inject a patient, draw blood, or close a wound with stitches. Injuries can occur when the healthcare worker is setting up, during the procedure, or when disposing of the sharp.

The likelihood of sharps injuries increases because of unsafe working practices and high-pressure environments. Some common reasons include passing sharp objects between healthcare workers, transporting sharps to other locations, recapping needles, or cleaning used sharps.

What are the health risks with sharps injuries?

Sharps injuries are not just painful. The greatest danger of a sharps injury is the possibility of contracting diseases such as blood-borne viruses. This situation can happen if the injury is caused by a sharp contaminated with blood or body fluid from a patient. The most concerning bloodborne diseases are Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Many injuries occur, but only a tiny percentage result in infections that cause serious illness. However, the symptoms of the damage and the concern that comes with it. The adverse side effects of treatments, like post-exposure prophylaxis, can have a significant personal impact on an injured employee.

Preventing sharps injuries

To prevent sharps injuries, encourage a culture of prioritising safe sharps management.

This includes:

  • Conducting risk assessments
  • Controlling exposure
  • Providing safe equipment
  • Offering sharps with safety devices if possible
  • proper disposal of sharps in a specialised bin
  • Requiring appropriate PPE
  • Organising sufficient sharps training

To read more about the prevention of sharps injuries in a medical setting, read our articles: Understanding the Risks: Why Sharps Safety is Crucial in Healthcare Settings.

Safe sharps waste disposal

Most sharps injuries happen when they are being moved or disposed of incorrectly. Always follow procedures for disposing of sharps waste, including using sharps bins.

Here are some points to remember:

  • Suitable containers: Ensure proper arrangements and procedures for safely removing clinical waste, including sharps.
  • Point of use dispose: Dispose of sharps carefully right where you use them. This means having portable sharps bins designed to make it easy and safe to discard needles and sharp instruments where you need them.
  • Container design: Ideally, sharps bins should prevent overfilling and accidental spills. They should be easy to temporarily and permanently close without the risk of puncturing the sharps bin.
  • Control access: Don't leave sharps bins unattended in areas where non-healthcare workers can get to them.

See our Safe Sharps Disposal at Home and Work article in our Knowledge Bank to learn more.

What to do if you receive a sharps injury

Sharps injury poster | Needle stick injury protocol

Download a printable copy of the above for your own health and safety display here.

If you or a colleague experience a sharps injury, be mindful of the possibility of infection. Take the following steps:

  1. Encourage the wound to bleed gently by holding it under running water.
  2. Wash the wound with plenty of soap and running water.
  3. Be gentle; don't scrub the wound.
  4. Do not try to suck the wound.
  5. Dry the injury and cover it with a waterproof bandage.
  6. Get medical help immediately. There are medicines available to prevent infections.
  7. Report the injury to your line manager or employer.

Reporting a needlestick injury

In some cases, sharps injuries may need to be reported outside your organisation. Sharps injuries must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if:

  • If an employee gets hurt by a sharp object known to have blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV.
  • When an employee gets a sharps injury, they get a blood-borne virus.
  • If the injury is severe.

If the sharp doesn't have a blood-borne virus, or you can't determine where the injury came from, you don't have to report it to HSE unless it causes severe damage lasting over seven days.

Reports are made to HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).

Supporting individuals with sharps injuries

Experiencing a sharps injury can be a scary and stressful event. Offering support to individuals with a sharps injury can significantly improve their recovery.

It's important to be there for them, offer comfort, and listen to them express their feelings. Talking openly about what happened is also important because it helps everyone learn from the situation.

Encouraging open communication can help. When individuals feel safe to talk about their injuries, it creates an environment where everyone can learn from the incident. Reporting sharps injuries to management or the appropriate authorities, if applicable, encourages a safety-conscious workplace culture.

The importance of sharps training in healthcare

Research shows that training, safer working practises, and safer sharp items can prevent many sharps injuries in the health and social care sector.

Sharps training courses should teach those who work with needles and sharps how to appropriately use and dispose of them to decrease the risk of injury. It should also convey the dangers of using sharps, as well as what practises to be avoided and what steps to take if a sharps injury occurs.

Legal responsibilities for sharps safety

Workplaces where sharps are present, like healthcare and social settings, have a legal duty to protect their staff from the high risks of sharps injuries. These protections are outlined in various regulations, including:

In Conclusion

Understanding the risks of sharps injuries and taking proactive steps to prevent them is essential for the safety of healthcare workers and others in settings where sharps are used.

Make safe sharps management, proper training, and regulatory guidelines a priority to reduce the chances of these injuries and the potential transmission of bloodborne diseases.

Additionally, offering support to individuals who experience sharps injuries, emotionally and through reporting mechanisms, creates a culture of safety and learning. Top of Form

Commodious offers comprehensive and cost-effective Sharps Awareness Courses. Click below to find out more.

Further Reading

Sharps FAQ

Sharps FAQ

Sharps Awareness

The most asked questions about sharps answered!

Sharps Safety in Healthcare

Sharps Safety in Healthcare

Sharps Awareness

Don't let sharps safety become an issue in your workplace. Find out vital information on sharps safety awareness in healthcare.

Safe Sharps Disposal

Safe Sharps Disposal

Sharps Awareness

Wherever sharps are used, they must be disposed of safely. In this article: discover the most important information on safe sharps disposal.

Bethany Wesson

Bethany Wesson

Bethany is a freelance content writer and has produced articles for the Commodious Knowledge Bank since 2023. She has written about various health and safety topics, from asbestos to mindful business practices.

  • Health and Safety
  • Sharps