As a nurse, you selflessly dedicate your life to helping others. You serve with a deep passion, steadfast purpose and unselfish heart, and when you’re not busy saving lives, you’re comforting and caring for patients in need. Simply put: you’re a superhero to your patients—and as every superhero knows, hidden dangers can lurk around the next corner.
Needlesticks and other sharps injuries are some of the biggest occupational dangers that nurses face every day. In fact, nurses are most frequently injured by accidental sharps injuries, which puts them at greater risk of contracting bloodborne infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.1
Needlesticks by the Numbers
Despite advancements in medical devices, best practices, and safety protocols, needlesticks and other sharps injuries remain a risk to healthcare workers.
If you’ve ever accidentally stuck yourself in a fast-paced, emergency situation or had a patient move abruptly while you administered an injection, you know that needlesticks can happen in an instant to even the most vigilant nurses.
5.6M Healthcare workers are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens
Needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries continue to be a significant hazard for millions of hospital employees and student nurses and can expose workers to bloodborne pathogens such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.1
1000+ Sharps-related injuries occur every day, on average
While often preventable, an estimated 385,000 needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries occur annually among hospital-based personnel. That’s more than 1,000 per day, on average.2
50% of sharps injuries are believed to go unreported
The full magnitude of occupational sharps injuries is largely unknown. Surveys reveal that at least half of healthcare workers fail to report them and there is inadequate information on the frequency of injuries in non-hospital work settings.2
41% of sharps injuries occur after use and before disposal of a sharp device
Another 39% of injuries occur during use of a sharp device on a patient.2
Minimizing the Risk: Sharps Safety Starts with You
When it comes to sharps safety, prevention is key. Here are 11 tips to help minimize the risk of accidental sharps injuries on the job.
Make sure your organization has a sharps safety program in place. (Check out these resources to learn how to design, implement and evaluate your own sharps injury prevention program.)
Avoid needles where safe and effective alternatives are available.
Advocate for devices with safety features and help your employer select and evaluate safe devices that may help to reduce the risk of needlesticks.
Avoid recapping needles.
Always practice safe sharps disposal. Never leave sharps out where they can potentially injure others and immediately discard used needles in sharps boxes. Avoid long-distance disposal by planning ahead and ensuring that there is a safety box within reach.
Never open or overfill a sharps safety box.
Avoid hand-to-hand passing of sharps and verbally alert others when moving sharps.
Be sure to wear the proper protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and safety goggles, to help prevent exposures through blood and bodily fluid splatters.
When necessary, get help or use proper restraints on patients who are predicted to move during a procedure.
Get a Hepatitis B vaccination.
Attend trainings at work to stay up to date on sharps safety protocols and best practices.
What to do if you’re exposed
The moments after a needlestick or sharps injury can be emotional and stressful. If you’re injured, get help immediately.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following these guidelines3 immediately after a sharps injury or other blood or bodily fluid exposure:
Thoroughly wash the area with soap and water
Flush splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin with water
Flush eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigants
Report the incident to your supervisor
Immediately seek medical treatment and follow your institution’s post-exposure protocol
Preventing Needlesticks and Sharps Injuries (CDC)
Preventing Needlestick Injuries in Healthcare Settings (CDC)
Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention (OSHA)
1 Occupational Safety and Health Administration. n.d. Healthcare Wide Hazards: Needlestick/Sharps Injuries. [online] Available at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/hospital/hazards/sharps/sharps.html [Accessed 2 February 2021].
2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sharps Injury Prevention Workbook [PDF] (pp. 7, 10). Retrieved from https://www.CDC.gov/sharpssafety/pdf/workbookcomplete.pdf
3 CDC - Bloodborne Infectious Diseases - Emergency Needlestick Information - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. (2016). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from https://www.CDC.gov/niosh/topics/bbp/emergnedl.html
Additional sources used for needlestick safety tips:
NIOSH—Publications Dissemination. (1999). Preventing Needlestick Injuries in Health Care Settings [PDF] (pp. 3-4). Cincinnati, OH. Retrieved from https://www.CDC.gov/niosh/docs/2000-108/pdfs/2000-108.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB2000108
Make Smart Injection Choices: Prevent Needle-Stick Injuries. [PDF] (pp. 1-4). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/infection-prevention/tools/injections/IS_needlestick_Leaflet.pdf?ua=1