Culture change 'best way to reduce sharps injury risk'

Wednesday April 12 2017

A culture of safety that is practised at all levels of a healthcare organisation is the key to eliminating incidents that expose medical workers to blood-borne pathogens, according to a new report.

The Journal of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare has published the results of a survey - titled EXPOsure Survey of Trends in Occupational Practice (EXPO-S.T.O.P.) - carried out last winter that was designed to find the most effective ways to reduce needlestick injuries and subsequent blood exposure in healthcare settings.

When doctors or nurses have their bloodstream exposed to pathogens due to a sharps injury, they are put at risk of contracting infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, particularly if the needle in question has already been used or is broken.

Figures show that around 320,000 incidents of blood exposure take place each year in the US, but the results of the new survey suggest that a culture change to make sure safety is at the heart of every single task could be the answer to preventing more needle injuries from taking place in the future.

Terry Grimmond, director of Grimmond and Associates of New Zealand and co-author of the report, explained that there are four main steps to implementing a culture change of these kind. 

The first of these is education and training, which could take the form of showing staff how to correctly use and dispose of sharps equipment. The second is communication, the third incident investigation and the fourth staff engagement, all of which are vital in reducing the risk of needlestick injuries and associated infections.

Dr Linda Good, who co-wrote the report with Mr Grimmond, added: "EXPO-S.T.O.P. has identified healthcare organisations with exposure rates nearly 50 per cent below the national average.

"Analysing their successful prevention strategies serves as a foundation for creative and effective best practices to reduce the persistent national problem of blood and body fluid exposures."

Alongside implementing a culture of safety, other best practices to follow would include applying the Hierarchy of Exposure Controls to healthcare settings. 

This begins with eliminating the use of sharps, but if this is not possible the next step is to use engineering controls, then administrative and workplace controls, followed by using personal protective equipment in order to reduce the risk of potentially life-threatening blood exposure.

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