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How to safely dispose of medical sharps

November 28, 2014

Healthcare workers are exposed to a number of occupational hazards during their working day, which could harm them or even put their career in jeopardy. One of the most dangerous of all hazards is the risk of suffering a needlestick or other medical sharp injury while at work. 

Needles and medical sharps are a necessary part of most medical professional's job and they are unable to do their role without it. However, improper use and disposal of such an instrument can expose the member of staff - as well as anyone who may be in the surrounding area - to bloodborne pathogens. This can spread infections such as HIV and hepatitis and could end a professional's career.

Even if there is no infection or disease contracted during the injury, the mere experience of being stuck by a needle or medical sharp can have a devastating emotional impact on people working within the hospital. This may not just affect the person who had suffered the injury, but the rest of their team and even department if the incident is not handled in the appropriate way.

Although sharps are always dangerous for healthcare workers, research has suggested that it is during the disposal of the instrument that staff are most likely to injure themselves. Studies suggest that this is largely down to the fact that so much emphasis is put on the actual procedure - whether it is an injection or drawing blood - that as soon as it is over, the healthcare worker loses concentration and doesn't follow the proper protocol.

For people working in hospitals, there is plenty of clear guidance about how to appropriately dispose of sharps, when to empty bins and how to operate safely around medical instruments.

Use a sharps bin

Whenever sharps are being used there should be a specific bin to dispose of the instrument safely. These should be impenetrable by sharps and in close proximity to where the procedure is taking place to minimise the risk of injury at any part of the process, and to also safeguard innocent passersby and cleaners that empty the bins.

Needles

If a needle has a safety mechanism that needs to be activated, this should be done as per the procedure. The instructions for the needle should be followed in line with the recommendations of the manufacturer or hospital. Used needles must not be bent or broken before disposal and you must never try to recap a needle. 

After the needle has been used, they should be put in the sharps bin immediately. At no point should any healthcare worker try to retrieve a sharp or anything else from the disposal bin.

It's important that bins are only filled to the manufacturers' line and should be disposed of every three months, even if they are not full. 

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