Occupational health practitioners were urged to get involved in a major consultation on new regulations proposed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which ran until 8 November 2012. The provisionally-named Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 would help protect healthcare workers from sharps injuries. The aim of these regulations, which build on existing legislation in this area, is to ensure UK compliance with a European Council Directive (2010/32/E) on sharps injuries.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) responded to this consultation by warning that non-medical workers should not be excluded from these sharps regulations but that all professions should be protected when working with sharp medical instruments.
Injuries to workers from needles, scalpel blades and other sharp instruments (collectively known as ‘medical sharps’) which are contaminated with blood or other blood-stained bodily fluids can lead to exposure to blood-borne viruses and serious diseases, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C & HIV. While there are very few UK healthcare workers known to have contracted an infection in this way, such diseases can be very serious.
According to IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones:
“IOSH warmly welcomes better regulation, guidance, training and practice to prevent worker injury from medical sharps.
“However, we believe that the proposed ‘sharps’ regulations should cover all those workers potentially at risk and not only hospital and healthcare workers. Or, alternatively, that existing regulations should be modified appropriately to achieve this.”
In some cases it is possible to change to safer practices by identifying procedures that do not require sharps use at all. However, where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid the use of medical sharps, the proposed new regulations requires employers to:
- use sharps incorporating protection mechanisms where reasonably practicable;
- prevent the recapping of needles;
- place secure containers and instructions for safe disposal of medical sharps close to the work area;
- review procedures regularly; and
- provide information and training to staff.
The regulations also require employers to work with safety representatives in developing and promoting the information to be given to workers.
Where there has been a sharps accident or injury, employers will need to ensure that injured workers report the injury to the employer and provide information about the circumstances. The employer should ensure that the employee receives appropriate first aid, and follow up care.
Employers have a responsibility for the health of their staff. Keeping workers healthy not only fulfils legal requirements but improves organisations’ chances of remaining productive and competitive. For free online or telephone help with employee health issues, call the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.