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The Employer's Role in NSI Prevention

October 30, 2014

Recent statistics state that injuries from medical sharps such as needles account for 17 per cent of all accidents to staff, making them the second most common cause of injury. However, it is widely thought that underreporting of incidents is significantly masking the real issue and danger of needlestick injuries.

For many employers in the healthcare sector, the primary concern of their worker suffering a percutaneous injury is that they will be exposed to one of the major blood-borne pathogens through the incident including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. However, experiencing such a traumatic event can also have a significant impact on the person's quality of life, mental health and work productivity. 

When an occupational exposure occurs, there is also a risk that the quality of care of the hospital or medical setting could be compromised as the healthcare worker is then at risk of contaminating any patient they come into contact with, especially in surgery or trauma departments.

Reporting incidents
 
One of the major priorities for employers in the healthcare sector is to ensure that there is an appropriate reporting process in place should a member of staff suffer a needlestick injury, and that each worker knows how to approach this. As a healthcare company, there is a legal obligation for employers to ensure that these local systems are in place for staff to easily report all needlestick injuries. 

Employers should also take all necessary steps to ensure that healthcare workers feel encouraged to report any incidents. This is important for a number of reasons. Having reporting protocol in place means that the appropriate measures are in place to reduce the risk of blood-borne virus transmission, which helps to prevent future incidents.

Having reliable data also allows the employer to accurately monitor and review the effectiveness of measures, and ensures they are meeting the necessary legal requirements.

Legal Obligation
 
Numerous nations across the globe have legal obligations for their employers to take the necessary measures to protect their workers from occupational hazards. For the European Union, this was recently outlined in the EU Council Directive 89/391/EEC, while other countries like the US have their own relevant legislation.

By failing to prevent needlestick injuries, companies can suffer substantial legal expenses and compensation payments. In 2010, the Health and Safety Executive prosecuted an NHS trust following an incident where a healthcare worker contracted the Hepatitis C virus after injuring herself on a needle used to take blood from an infected patient. The trust was fined £12,500 plus £9,000 costs and likely suffered reputational damage as a result.

Strategy and Policy
 
Each healthcare organisation will need to form an appropriate strategy that fits with the legal requirements and implements the necessary preventative measures or policies. This will often involve ensuring that the right amount of funding and resources is dedicated to this area to make sure there are sufficient procedures in place to limit, manage and prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens and occupational hazards. 

This will often include consulting with industry bodies, health and safety representatives, infection control and even campaigners.

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