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What to do when you suffer an NSI

August 19, 2014

For many healthcare workers, suffering a needlestick injury is an incident that you hope will never happen, and with the right preventative measures in place it shouldn't. However, human error means it is a risk for each person working within a medical setting, especially for those members of staff that are based in accident and emergency departments. The fast-paced nature of this environment, as well as the vast variety of people that will need treatment, put these workers at a high risk of suffering a percutaneous injury throughout their career.

However, knowing exactly what to do should you find yourself in this situation is paramount. Needlestick injuries, or those from any medical sharp, can put the healthcare worker at risk of being exposed to bloodborne pathogens, which transmit life-changing diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.

After receiving all the appropriate training from your employer, it's important to ensure you are familiar with your hospital or organisation's specific protocol for what to do once you have suffered a needlestick injury. This will ensure you protect yourself, those around you and the company itself. However, the following is basic advice for what to do in case you suffer an percutaneous injury in the workplace.

Step One - Encouraging the site to bleed
By running the wound under cold water for several minutes, you are encouraging bleeding from the wound. This will help promote the expulsion of potential infectants from your body and wash them away. This minimises the amount that is able to enter the bloodstream. Once an infection or virus enters the blood it starts to multiply, making it vital to keep this to as small an amount as possible. 

Step Two - Washing the wound 
It's important to not scrub or suck the wound while you are trying to clean it, but gently cleansing the site of the needlestick or medical sharp injury can help. This should be done once you have bled the site and will help kill any remaining viruses or bacteria, which will remove the source of infection and reduce the chance of you becoming infected. 

Step Three - Covering the wound
Once you have washed the injury site, dry it with a sterile material and immediately cover the wound with a suitable plaster or dressing. You should also wash and remove any other sites of your body where the blood or fluid may have come into contact with your skin. 

Step Four - Reporting the incident and receiving medical attention
You should immediately seek medical attention as soon as possible after the incident has occurred. The exact protocol depends on your organisation but you will need to report the injury, as well as describing what you were doing before it happened, and your medical history. 

It's important that you also comply with the organisation's protocol, which will often include following various steps, such as reporting the incident as part of the official process. It is common in many hospitals and organisations for you to have to undergo blood tests, screenings and vaccinations before returning to work.

Related Legislation and Guidelines: