Working safely with sharps


Sharps injuries can be minimised with appropriate risk management systems

According to statistics compiled by the Medical Industry Association, at least one in nine nurses in NSW will suffer a sharps injury each year. A needlestick or sharps injury occurs when the skin is punctured by a used needle, scalpel or other sharp instrument, putting nurses at risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C through exposure to contaminated blood.

Employers in the healthcare sector have a legal responsibility under Clauses 11 and 12 of the OH&S Regulation 2001 to eliminate the hazard of sharps injuries, or, if not ‘reasonably practicable’, to control the risk. This includes having in place an efficient local system for reporting and managing potential risks of contracting infectious diseases through exposure to blood and other body substances.

Following the infection control practices at your workplace is the first line of protection for nurses against exposure to HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

While sharps injuries are an occupational hazard for nurses that must be carefully managed, the risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C through exposure to contaminated blood is relatively low. The risk of transmission of an infection from a sharp injury where there is contamination is one in three for Hepatitis B, one in 30 for Hepatitis C and one in 300 for HIV.

Minimise the risk of infection

There are measures that can reduce the risk of contracting an infectious disease from exposure to blood and body substances

  • Use safer technology such as retractable needles and butterflies.
  • Wear gloves when carrying out procedures (seriously major rule!) and wash hands after each procedure.
  • All nurses who come in contact with patients/residents/clients should receive Hepatitis B vaccinations, as recommended by NSW Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
  • Comply with the safe work practices and training in your workplace. Use safer equipment options provided by your employer.
  • Report all potential exposures to your employer using local procedures.
  • Report any potential hazards or prob-lems with equipment or procedures to your employer using your facility’s hazard reporting protocols.
  • Sharps must not be passed by hand between health workers. Use a puncture-resistant tray to transfer sharps.
  • Don’t bend or snap used needles.
  • Never remove a needle from a dispo-sable syringe or recap a used needle.
  • Disposable sharps should be disposed of as soon as possible after use. Carry a puncture-proof, sharps-approved container with you so you can immediately depose of used sharps.
  • Place non-disposable sharps into a clearly labelled and puncture-proof, sharps-approved container.

What to do if a sharps injury occurs

  • Clean the contaminated site. Immediately wash the wound/site thoroughly with soap and water.
  • If clothing is contaminated, remove the clothing and shower.
  • Report the incident. Notify the appro-priate person at your workplace.
  • A risk assessment of the incident is essential. This will depend on the nature and extent of the injury, the item that caused the injury, and the volume of blood to which the nurse was exposed.
  • The source must be identified as quickly as possible (carefully note where and when the injury occurred). The source needs to be asked for consent to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
  • If the risk is significant, an infectious diseases specialist should be consulted and may recommend prophylaxis (or prophylactic treatment).
  • Until your test results are known, practice safe sex and don’t donate blood.
  • Contact the NSW Needlestick Injury Hotline for confidential advice/counselling

24-hour NSW Needlestick Injury Hotline

The NSW Needlestick Injury Hotline is an information, referral and support service for health care workers who receive a needlestick injury or are exposed to blood and body fluids.

Funded by NSW Health, calls to the Hotline are answered by clini-cal consultants and medical officers who will assess the situation and provide appropriate information, advice and counselling.

The NSW Needlestick Injury Hotline operates as an adjunct to existing management systems at local workplaces. It does not replace local management of occupational exposures.

NSW Needlestick Injury Hotline: 1800 804 823

Sharps safer with NSW Health project

A ‘Sharps Safety’ project has been established by NSW Health to develop a policy framework to minimise and, where possible, eliminate risks associated with sharps use in NSW public healthcare organisations (PHOs).

The NSWNA is a member of the multi-disciplinary reference group set up to inform and steer the two-year project.
NSWNA OHS Officer, Trish Butrej, said: ‘The Sharps Safety Project has the potential to improve nurses’ health and safety and further evolve nursing practice.’

Data collected by NSW Health since 2003 reveals the range of parenteral exposures reported is 673–1056, and the range of non-parenteral exposures is 260–457.

The first stages of the project include a review of the processes relating to the procurement of consumable clinical items including safety engineered medical devices and a survey of health workers who use sharps in the workplace to examine local resources and procedures for preventing and managing body substance exposures and sharps injuries.

For further information on the Sharps Safety Project, contact Project Manager Mark Friedewald on 02 4320 2132.