Preventing This Danger in Your Workplace
Are you an employer in a workplace that uses sharps to provide care or services to people, such as needles in a medical care environment? Do your employees have to handle the sharp equipment after use, such as those who work in waste disposal of them? Are the people in your workplace likely to inadvertently come across used sharps, such as in a laundering facility?
If any of these are true about your workplace, it is important to perform a sharps risk assessment so that you can avoid the dangers. A risk assessment will help you to identify the hazards in the workplace, consider the nature of these risks and then determine which control measures should be implemented.
Sharps can be very dangerous within the health and social care sector and sharp objects that are contaminated with blood from an infected patient can transit more than 20 different diseases – including HIV, hepatitis B and C and many more.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to perform this risk assessment and to determine these risks, so that your employees can be protected from danger. Not only is it a legal requirement, you also have a moral obligation to make sure that your employees work in a safe environment.
What is a “Sharp?”
The term sharp describes any type of needle, blade, scalpel or other instrument that could cause injury by cutting or pricking the skin.
Sharps can cause injury when the instrument penetrates the skin, which is also known as a percutaneous injury.
The Dangers of a Sharps Injury
If you are afflicted with a sharps injury, what are the dangers that can occur? The main risk from this type of injury is the potential exposure to infections – such as HIV, HBV and HCV. There have been a number of sharps injuries in the UK every year, some of which have caused infections that led to serious illness.
What Should a Sharps Risk Assessment Include?
When you are performing a sharps risk assessment, it should be appropriate for the nature of the work. The more hazardous the work is, the more in-depth the examination required. For example, if employees work with needles, syringes, phlebotomy needs, winged steel-butterfly-needles or intra-vascular cannulation – these procedures should all have detailed assessments.
The risk assessment should be a very thorough and in-depth look at the entire workplace, determining what situations could potentially be dangerous when it comes to sharp injuries. Don’t forget to look at all situations, including preparation and disposal of such materials.
The risk assessment should also identify which employees are most at risk. Who handles sharps the most during their daily routine and which employees are vulnerable to disease due to lowered immune systems.
Then, once the risks have been identified, the next step is to determine the measures that should be taken to avoid these injuries. This could include personal protective equipment, correct sharps storage and different procedures to prevent the manual handling of sharps.
How to Prevent Sharps Injuries
What steps can you take in order to prevent the risk of sharps injuries in your workplace? The first step is to design appropriate work processes, systems and engineering controls that will make handling sharps safer. For example you can control the exposure by having a clinical waste policy that will include safe storage, collection, final disposal and transport of waste.
If there is no way to control the exposure, you can provide suitable personal protective equipment for the handling of sharps. However the priority should be on eliminating and controlling the risk.
Once a sharp has been used, there should be an appropriate sharps disposal bin available. These types of systems are designed to enclose the sharps and make them safe for handling after use. If these systems are filled with used sharps, they should be disposed of by incineration to prevent infection of waste disposal workers.
When it comes to working in the refuse and recycling collection industry, employees should know that if they find a needle or a syringe in a public place they should never touch it. They should contact the local authorities so that the needle can be disposed of safely.
Here are a few more important tips that you should keep in mind:
- Never leave sharps lying around, even for just a few minutes.
- Don’t re-sheath used razors or needles. They should be disposed of once they are used.
- Never bend or break a needle before it is disposed of.
- Sharps should always be placed in disposal containers that are immediately approved after use.
- The sharps container should always be closed when it is being carried or when it is left unsupervised, so that it will not spill or be tampered with.
- When it is being carried, the sharps container should be held by the handle, away from the body.
- If the sharps container becomes damaged, it should be placed inside a larger sharps container.
- Yellow hazardous waste bags are not safe enough to put sharps in, because the sharp object can pierce through the bag and cause injury.
- Never use anything other than a sharps disposal container for disposing of sharps. Using other containers such as bottles, drink cans, boxes, etc. can cause this refuse to get mixed in with domestic waste. The makeshift container will then become a hidden danger for members of the public and refuse disposal employees.
These are just a few very important tips to keep in mind when it comes to preventing the dangers of sharps injuries in your workplace. Of course, when you perform a sharps risk assessment of your particular workplace you will be able to identify the particular dangers that your employees face so that you can come up with custom solutions that suit your team.
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the correct policies are being followed when it comes to sharps in the workplace, so that employees are protected from potential injury and infection.