New regulations on preventing sharps injuries come into force


New law aims to prevent needlestick injuries among healthcare workers

New regulations to control the risks posed by needles and other ‘sharps’ in healthcare settings will take effect this month.

The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations came into force on Saturday. Northern Ireland will introduce equivalent regulations on the same date.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is introducing the new regulations to implement a European Directive . They will supplement the existing health and safety legislation that already requires employers across all sectors to take effective action to control the risk from sharps injuries.

Under the new rules, employers and contractors working in the healthcare sector will be required to:

  • Have effective arrangements for the safe use and disposal (including using ‘safer sharps’ where reasonably practicable, restricting the practice of recapping of needles, and placing sharps bins close to the point of use)
  • Provide the necessary information and training to workers
  • Investigate and take action in response to work-related sharps injuries

Martin Dilworth, an HSE policy advisor in biological hazards, said: “Sharps injuries are a well-known risk in the healthcare sector. Medical sharps contaminated with an infected patient's blood can transmit pathogens that cause more than 20 diseases, including hepatitis B and C, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

“The new regulations are there to help minimise these risks, and we’re publishing free guidance to help the healthcare industry understand its responsibilities.”

The directive specifically refers to the focal role played by safety-engineered medical devices such as spring-loaded retractable needles, needletip guards, puncture-resistant sharps containers, needle destructors, blunt sutures, and needle-free access valves for intravenous sets. These have been proven to reduce the rate of needlestick injuries in healthcare workers to nearly zero in some studies. And, while adoption means an initial financial outlay greater than that of the traditional devices, research shows that it reduces the huge costs associated with a needlestick injury and boosts staff morale.

The legislation commes as figures show that in the UK alone there are 100,000 so-called ‘needlestick’ incidents every year.

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Click here for guidance on the regulations.