Sharps (needlestick injuries)

Exposure to blood and body fluids in the workplace

Needlestick injuries from used needles or blood/body fluid exposure onto broken skin or mucous membranes (eyes or mouth) can increase the risk of contracting a blood-borne virus (BBV). These include:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

Note that BBVs can also be transmitted in other ways, including sexually. For more information about the ways in which staff and patients can be protected, see infection and immunisation.

Responding to sharps/blood exposure incidents: immediate actions

There are standard actions which should be taken after a needlestick injury or exposure to blood/body fluids onto broken skin or mucous membranes :

  • Wash exposed area under running water
  • Where possible, take some details of the patient whose blood is involved (the 'donor' or source)
  • Inform your manager or the nurse in charge of the area
  • Follow the local reporting arrangements*
  • Contact your occupational health service for advice on follow-up arrangements as soon as possible
  • Your manager should arrange testing for the donor
  • Your blood should be sampled and saved to provide a baseline for subsequent testing (NB: For NHS staff this is normally through the occupational health service. Often the local A&E department will provide an out-of-hours service in the NHS as well as some cover for non-NHS staff.)

* You should also check your local procedures which should be publicised in all clinical areas; this applies to NHS or organisations where blood exposure is a significant possibility.

Workplace policies and procedures

If you work for the NHS, your Trust should have a local sharps, blood and body fluids exposure policy and procedure. Make sure you are familiar with the reporting arrangements and act immediately if you have a needlestick injury or are exposed to blood or bodily fluids onto broken skin or mucous membranes.

Other employers should assess the risk of exposure to blood and body fluids and make local arrangements to ensure staff are safe. We can advise existing clients about writing policies or procedures for this.

Prevention and safe working practices

The following measures can reduce the risk of occupational exposure to blood-borne viruses:

  • Wash hands before and after contact with each patient, and before putting on and after removing gloves
  • Change gloves between patients
  • Cover existing wounds, skin lesions and all breaks in exposed skin with waterproof dressings. Wear gloves if hands are extensively affected
  • Wear gloves where contact with blood can be anticipated
  • Avoid sharps usage where possible, and where sharps usage is essential, use a safer device and exercise particular care in handling and disposal
  • Avoid wearing open footwear in situations where blood may be spilt, or where sharp instruments or needles are handled
  • Clear up blood spillage promptly and disinfect surfaces
  • Wear gloves when cleaning equipment prior to sterilisation or disinfection, when handling chemical disinfectant and when cleaning spillages
  • Follow safe procedures for disposal of contaminated waste
  • Remember to protect your eyes and mouth if there is a risk of splashing of blood or body fluids

Safe disposal of sharps

The actions below can help with the safe disposal of sharps:

  • Prevention is your best protection – be aware
  • Ensure the sharps bin is near to hand and you have all the equipment you need for the task before you start a procedure
  • Concentrate very carefully on any task needing use of sharps or handling blood or body fluids
  • Dispose of all used sharps in a sharps bin immediately after use. This is your responsibility
  • Do not overfill sharps bins
  • Do not store sharps bins where children or patients can reach into them
  • Do not re-sheathe needles
  • Follow your local procedure for safe working practice for each task

Contact details:

Address: Ground Floor, South Wing, St Pancras Hospital, 4 St Pancras Way, London NW1 0PE
Phone: 020 3317 3350
Fax: 020 3317 3360

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