If you work in a hospital, surgical center, lab, or other medical facility, you use sharps devices such as needles, syringes, lancets, scalpels, auto-injectors, infusion sets, and others multiple times throughout the day. And, while all are life-saving, necessary tools for surgery, they also present one common — and silent — danger for medical professionals: sharps injuries.
In hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 385,000 sharps-related injuries occur annually among healthcare personnel. That’s a staggering average of 1,000 sharps injuries per day.
During surgeries, the operating room is an intense and fast-paced environment. In most cases, there are multiple medical personnel, including surgeons, residents, nurses, and surgical technicians. The high stress and heavily trafficked environment makes the operating room one of the most dangerous settings in the workplace. In fact, the CDC reports that 27 percent of all sharps injuries occur in the OR.
Sharps injuries can take many forms and involve a variety of personnel. According to a study published by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the majority of sharps injuries are caused by suture needles (43.4 percent), scalpel blades (17 percent), and syringes (12 percent) during the use or passing of the devices. Surgeons and assistants — which include residents, nurses and surgical technicians — are at the highest risk of experiencing a sharps injury. A survey the MediPurpose team conducted during the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association’s (ASCA) annual meeting, in May 2016, revealed that 69 percent of respondents had witnessed a scalpel related injury, with 36 percent occurring to surgeons and 64 percent to surgical techs.
This widespread impact makes it imperative for medical facilities and personnel to be up-to-date on the latest sharps safety and injury prevention practices.
Occurring frequently and affecting many people, sharps injuries cost medical facilities and personnel a significant amount of money. The Massachusetts Sharps Injury Surveillance System cites that the average cost per person for these injuries is more than $3,000. That creates over $1 billion in preventable healthcare costs. Injury prevention is vital in driving these costs down. Prevention can come in many forms, including investing in safety sharp devices and ensuring compliancy with your facility’s prevention practices.
As products and legislation continue to evolve, it’s recommended to review your facilities’ injuries prevention practices yearly by analyzing the below tactics:
- Review history of sharps injuries: It is critical that all hospitals and medical facilities conduct a review to assess how many sharps injuries have occurred at their facilities. The review should include the current calendar year as well as past years to determine how often sharps injuries typically occur, where they occur and who is affected. This review process will help highlight areas of improvement for the medical facility. In addition, it will also help ascertain how much this type of injury is costing the facility and the affected parties.
- Ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations: Medical facilities should confirm that their current sharps safety practices and procedures align with those set forth in the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000. The Act was signed into law more than 15 years ago in response to the growing problem of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens from accidental sharps injuries in healthcare and other occupational settings. It mandates requirements for hospitals and other medical facilities regarding their sharps procedures.
- Educate staff on practices and procedures: Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing sharps injuries. That’s why it is extremely important for medical facilities to re-engage their staff on sharps safety best practices and encourage them to report any sharps injuries that they experience or observe. According to the American Journal of Public Health, the underreporting of sharps injuries to workplace-based surveillance systems is estimated to be about 50 percent.
- Use safer surgical accessories and tools: In addition to mandating that medical facilities update their sharps procedures, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act also directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update their requirement on identifying, evaluating, and implementing safer medical devices. Furthermore, it requires medical facilities to involve non-managerial healthcare workers in the evaluation and decision-making process regarding safer devices. In a recently revised statement on sharps safety, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) recommends the use of engineered sharps injury prevention (ESIP) devices as an adjunctive safety measure to reduce sharps injuries during surgeries. As such, hospitals and other medical facilities should ensure that they are using the safest surgical accessories and tools available, including safety scalpels, safety lancets, blunt tip suture needles, and others. However, some of these tools are not readily available to personnel. The survey from the ASCA’s annual meeting revealed that 61 percent of facilities do not use safety scalpels. A different survey the MediPurpose team conducted during the American College of Surgeon’s (ACS) Clinical Congress in October 2016 found that 76 percent of respondents would use a safety scalpel if it were made available to them.
Understanding where your healthcare facility stands in regards to sharps injury prevention is critical to the health and safety of your employees and the overall health of your facility. A yearly review of prevention practices and procedures can help you understand where there may be issues, prepare for future incidents and — most importantly — help prevent them from occurring.