Working with sharps

Working with Sharps 

The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 Prior to the publication of European Directive 2010/32/EU, a framework agreement was developed that brought together a number of existing health and safety requirements in order to make the legal framework to protect workers from sharps injuries more explicit. The UK went down the legislative route, and The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 came into force on the 11th May 2013.

The regulations apply to employers whose primary activity is to organise, manage and provide treatment to others that involve the use of sharps. Those covered under the act include not only those that undertake the procedure but all others that may come into contact with any sharps, which will include all employees, servicemen and cleaners.

The main requirements of the regulations mean Employers need to assess the risk of sharps injuries under the COSHH regulations. Where risks are identified, the regulations require the employer to take specific risk control measures detailed below:

  • where the employer has identified a risk, steps must be taken to avoid the unnecessary use of sharps (Regulation 5 (1)(a))
  • where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid the use of medical sharps, the sharps regulations require employers to: –
  • use safe sharps (incorporating protection mechanisms) where it is reasonably practicable to do so (Regulation 5(1) (b)) –
  • prevent the recapping of needles (Regulation 5 (1) (c))
  • place secure containers and instructions for safe disposal of medical sharps close to the work area (Regulation 5 (1) (d)
  • Provide information to employees on the risks from injuries, relevant legal duties of employers and employees; good practice in preventing injuries; the benefits and drawbacks of vaccination and the support available to an injured person from their employer.
  • Provide appropriate training to ensure employees know how to work safely. The training must cover the correct use of safe sharps, safe use and disposal of sharps, what to do in the event of an injury and the employer’s arrangements for health surveillance. (Regulation 6 (4))
  • Have arrangements in place in the event of an injury, which includes keeping a record of the incident, investigation of the circumstances of an incident and to take action to prevent a reoccurrence. The HSE advise that records of the incident should include details of the type of sharp involved, at what stage of the procedure the incident occurred and the severity of the injury.
  • ensure that injured employees who may have been exposed to a blood-borne virus have immediate access to medical advice; are offered post-exposure prophylaxis or other treatment as advised by a doctor and offered counselling where appropriate. (Regulation 7 (2))
  • Review, at suitable periods, the effectiveness of procedures and control measures (Regulation 5 (2)).

Work practice controls 

These controls aim to change the behaviour of workers to reduce exposure to occupational hazards. Examples include:

  • no needle recapping or resheathing
  • safe construction of sharps containers
  • placing sharps containers at eye level and within arm’s reach
  • disposing of sharps immediately after use in designated sharps containers
  • sealing and discarding sharps containers when they are three-quarters full
  • establishing means for the safe handling and disposal of sharps devices before the beginning of a procedure.
  • Safe storage of full sharps containers, which should be stored in a safe place and carried away from the body with the lid firmly closed.