The importance of reporting needlestick injuries

The importance of reporting needlestick injuries - Image Credit: laflor

Friday December 04 2015

Suffering a needlestick injury is still one of the biggest occupational hazards for healthcare workers, and one that could potentially put their health and job at risk. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare workers in the US alone experience between 600,000 and a million needlesticks and other sharps injuries every year. 

However, it is difficult to know the exact number and prevalence of such injuries as it is widely believed that they are severely underreported, making it difficult for many to understand the true scale of the issue.

Preventing these is crucial for hospital and patient safety, as needlesticks are the most common cause of healthcare work-related exposure to bloodborne pathogens, with 80 per cent of blood contacts happening as the result of needlestick.

This exposure puts healthcare workers at risk of more than  20 pathogens including HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and even malaria. 

For hepatitis B alone, the CDC estimates that more than 5,000 healthcare workers are infected with it through an occupational hazard such as a needlestick, while nurses make up around a quarter (24 per cent) of all HIV infections transmitted in the workplace.

However, research indicates that the vast majority of needlesticks could be prevented by using safety devices. 

Across the US and in most of Europe, it is now recommended that devices with safety mechanisms are used wherever possible. Even with this, it is difficult to understand the true scale of the issue without further promotion of the importance of reporting such incidents.

Only through reporting incidents can hospitals perform accurate risk assessments, allowing them to channel their efforts and reduce the danger for healthcare workers and patients alike.

This is key for the wider hospital as well as each individual healthcare worker as the American Hospital Association estimates that each instance of a serious infection after a bloodborne pathogen can cost up to $1 million. This includes testing, counselling and any follow-up payments.

In 2000, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was passed to encourage employers to take responsibility to regularly evaluate their practices to ensure that employees are safeguarded.

This danger is not restricted to the health service, but it is far more common for nurses and doctors to be exposed to this hazard than others. However, the importance of reporting needlestick injuries, or trauma from any other medical sharp, is the same, regardless of the sector in question.

However, with the prevalence of needlesticks being much higher in the healthcare sector, it's essential that any victims follow the correct reporting procedure to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring again.