Nurses and Dental Staff at Risk of Needlestick Injuries

Statistics indicate that at least 18,000 medical workers suffer from a sharps or needlestick injury in Australia every year, according to the Alliance for Sharps Safety and Needlestick Injury Prevention in Healthcare. While injuries occur most commonly to nurses, midwives and dental staff, other workers including lab employees, laundry staff, cleaners and waste disposal workers are also vulnerable.

Instruments, injuries, and risk factors

The types of instruments that can cause these injuries include hypodermics, intravenous needles, suture needles, dental instruments, scalpels and other surgical instruments. Hollow-bore needles present the strongest risk.

Types of injuries may include pinches, nicks and cuts, scratches and gashes. They are most likely to occur when performing medical procedures or during cleaning. Examples of events resulting in injuries include recapping needles, incorrect sharps disposal, overfilling sharps containers, or when carrying instruments by

Some of the risk factors may include fatigue, duty overload, and momentary lapses in concentration, distractions, sudden movements from patients, uncooperative or confused patients, inadequate training, and staff shortages.

Injury risks

The main concern with needlestick injuries is the risk of contracting blood-borne infections – most notably Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. The risk depends on the type of injury, the viral load, the health of the source patient, and the immunity status of the injured person.

Although the risks of infection are relatively low, they are still significant enough to warrant strict procedures and protocols to be followed when handling and using sharp instruments.

Prevention measures

Procedural controls should go a long way towards reducing the risks. These may include the following:

  • The person using the needle should also be the one who disposes of it.
  • All needles should be disposed correctly in a sharps disposal container.
  • Disposal containers should not be overfilled, and sharps should not be forced into
  • Needles should never be recapped except where absolutely necessary, and then only
    according to strict techniques.
  • Sharps should not be carried by hand or passed by hand to another person, but
    should instead be placed in a tray.
  • When a patient is uncooperative or anxious, assistance should be sought.
  • If it is necessary to remove a needle from a rubbish bin or disposal container, this should be done using an instrument such as tongs rather than by hand.
  • Sharps should always be stored safely.
  • If an injury occurs, it should be washed immediately with soap and water only, and
    the incident reported to a supervisor or manager.

All staff should be given full training on the healthcare facility’s safety policy regarding the handling of sharps.

It’s also essential that your medical centre cleaning service is professional and experienced in the healthcare cleaning field rather than simply a commercial cleaning service.

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