Add to Brochure

Sharps safety and fatigue

January 30, 2015

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 385,000 sharps-related injuries happen to healthcare workers in hospitals each year. However, figures from the Exposure Prevention Information Network (EPINet) estimate that the number of incidents is falling substantially. The group states that, between 2001 and 2006, sharps-related injuries in non-surgical hospital settings dropped by 31.6 per cent.

This may be a direct effect of the introduction and implementation of Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, while injuries in surgical settings increased 6.5 per cent across the same period. It is thought that this is because the uptake and implementation of safety devices in this setting is far less than in other environments, while underreporting still makes figures unreliable.

The healthcare workers most likely to be involved in needlestick injuries are nurses, with research suggesting that inexperienced staff are also at a much higher risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens through percutaneous injuries.

However, fatigue can also have a real impact on how likely healthcare workers are to be injured by sharps in a hospital or medical setting. 

It is common for workers throughout the medical profession to be susceptible to tiredness and fatigue, as their roles are demanding and require long and unsociable hours. For many healthcare workers, their job also requires them to make tough decisions, which can be emotionally draining, also leading to a drop in concentration and increase of stress.

Research from Drexel University School of Public Health, found that long working hours and sleep deprivation among medical trainees resulted in fatigue, which increased their risk of sharps injury by three times. The study concluded that efforts to limit trainee work hours could also have a positive impact on the number of sharps-related injuries among this vulnerable group of healthcare workers. 

Separate research from Harvard Medical School found that intern doctors who were not well rested made four times as many errors in their working day, while it also found that such a mistake at this stage of their career could have massive emotional consequences. 

These studies indicate why fatigue is such a relevant problem for those in the medical profession, but how can organisations and teams work to reduce it and therefore limit the risk of sharps injury?

Address staffing problems
Many healthcare workers feel obligated to miss their much-needed breaks and work longer shifts because their team is understaffed. This is especially true at this time of year when many hospitals are under pressure from a much higher number of patients that need medical attention.

For those working in infection control, where the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens is the highest, this is also apparent as there are more patients who suffer with seasonal infections such as influenza.

This makes it essential that teams and the wider organisation address any problems arising with staffing. If a department is understaffed, healthcare workers are far more likely to work longer hours and miss breaks, which can result in tiredness, stress and eventually fatigue.

Personal responsibility
Healthcare workers in a hospital or medical setting are obligated to take a certain level of responsibility for themselves and make appropriate decisions about the level of care they are able to deliver to patients.

The standard of care nurses and doctors are able to provide is directly linked to the levels of stress and tiredness experienced. This is especially apparent when people are involved in injections and medical procedures involving medical sharps. Unlike some other tasks, a split-second loss of concentration can result in an injury and can have life-changing implications for both the healthcare worker and patient.

Related Clinician and Patient Safety: