Nurses face the threat of many occupational injuries and illnesses. One of the most common of those threats is that posed by sharp instruments, including needles, scalpels, and other sharp instruments. The danger comes not so much from the actual puncture wound itself but from the possibility of contracting an infection such as HIV or hepatitis. Growing concern over the possibility of infections from bloodborne pathogens in the 1980s and 1990s led Congress to enact the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act (NSPA) in 2000.
This law had an immediate effect. It significantly reduced the number of needle and sharp injuries, but the possibility of injury and infection is an ever present problem.
How NSPA helped
The Needlestick Safety and Protection Act required health care employers to institute work practice controls and safer technology with the aim of reducing the frequency of needle and sharps injuries. Medical manufacturers responded by developing new products such as self-sheathing needles and finger-prick lancets, blunt-tipped surgical suture needles, and other safety-engineered devices, as well as needleless systems for administering medications.
A study completed by the University of Virginia in 2013 documented the dramatic effect that the new measures had. The study showed that needle and sharp injury rates dropped by one-third in the first year after enactment of NSPA. That drop was sustained through 2005. Total needle and sharp injuries dropped by 100,000 annually with a concomitant cost savings of $69-$415 million.
Needle and sharp problems still remain
But as any nurse knows, injuries from needles and sharps still happen. They are a particular problem in operating rooms where injuries continue to increase. And as the saying goes, in other areas of hospitals “common handling sometimes results in careless handling”. A study completed in 2013 found a correlation between high rates of needle and sharps injuries with lower registered nurse skill mix, a lower proportion of experienced staff and fewer nursing care hours per patient per shift. In other words, adequate staffing and reasonable patient loads is the key to reducing needlestick and sharps injuries – and probably many other types of nursing injuries as well.
If you are a nurse who has suffered an injury while working, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. You may want to consider speaking with an attorney about your case.