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Safe use of sharps

Sharps are medical devices. Examples include needles, scalpels, cannulae that can cut, prick, cause injury and or infection.

Certain categories of healthcare workers are at risk of potential sharps injuries.

These include:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • healthcare assistants
  • allied health professionals
  • laundry and waste management personnel

Sharps contaminated with infected blood can transmit blood borne viruses that include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

The risk of exposure to sharps injuries must be assessed. Control measures must be put in place to prevent or minimise the risk of injury.

Manager responsibilities

As a manager, you must:

  • assess the risk of exposure to sharps injuries
  • identify ways to eliminate or minimise the risk
  • implement, monitor and review practices, procedures, control measures and findings of incident reviews
  • ensure there are local procedures for employees who receive a sharps injury

Employee responsibilities

As an employee it is your responsibility to:

• work in a responsible manner, taking care of your own safety, health and welfare

• cooperate with the regular review of risk assessments and control measures

• attend training as appropriate

• use safety equipment or PPE provided

• report any defects in equipment and unsafe systems of work

• report any incidents or near-misses involving sharps

Risk assessment

A sharps risk assessment must be carried out to check if existing workplace controls are adequate or if further control measures are necessary.

Risk reduction measures

If the risk assessment shows a risk of injury or infection from sharps, control measures must be put in place.

These measures include:

  • eliminating the unnecessary use of sharps by using needless intravenous systems
  • substituting unprotected medical sharps with safer sharps devices
  • keeping handling of sharps to a minimum
  • prohibit the recapping of needles
  • sharps get placed in a sharps bin immediately after use
  • ensuring that needles are not:
    • passed from hand to hand
    • bent or broken
  • ensuring that appropriate PPE is made available
  • training based on a training needs assessment to include safe working practices with sharps
  • reporting any incident involving sharps
  • following local first aid and follow-up procedures

Sharps bins

An adequate number of sharps bins must be provided which are:

  • assembled, and used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
  • not overfilled to prevent accidental spillage of contents
  • securely closed, tagged and signed when three quarters full or filled to manufacturers fill line
  • stored in a secure location awaiting disposal

Vaccinations

A vaccine is available for protection against Hepatitis B, but not for Hepatitis C or HIV.

The Immunisation Guidelines for Ireland, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, list the vaccines recommended for certain categories of workers based on the type of work they carry out. See www.hpsc.ie for further information.

Employees must be informed of the benefits and drawbacks of both vaccination and non-vaccination. Records of vaccination and follow-up (where required) should be retained by Occupational Health. This should be kept confidential and in line with GDPR.

Post incident response and follow-up

Local procedures must be in place to ensure employees who have sustained a sharps injury have access to treatment and follow up. This should include employees who work out-of-hours or away from their base.

When determining appropriate response and follow-up procedures, you should take into account the HSE/HPSC guidelines for the emergency management of injuries (including needle-stick and sharps injuries). These guidelines can be found at www.emitoolkit.ie

Related topics

Biological agents

Sharps-related incidents must be reported. Incidents are reported in line with the HSE Incident Management Framework (PDF, 3MB, 148 pages)

Certain categories of work-related sharps injuries must be reported to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), please refer to Section 6.0 of the policy.

As sharps are considered to be medical devices, there is a voluntary system of reporting incidents to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) www.hpra.ie

Contact

Contact the Health and Safety helpdesk

Related documents

General risk assessment form

Policy on prevention of sharps injuries (PDF, 885KB, 28 pages)

Safe use and disposal of sharps - fast fact sheet (PDF, 313KB, 2 pages)

Use of sharps prompt sheet (Word, 436KB, 2 pages)

Clinical risk waste risk assessment prompt sheet (Word, 237KB, 3 pages)

Page last reviewed: 20/11/2020
Next review due: 20/11/2023