Far better late than never, HSE is proposing consultation on proposals to implement the 2010 Sharps in Healthcare Directive. Late because the implementation date will soon be upon us and the NHS Trusts must be well along the road of trialling safety sharps devices with a view to restocking, staff training, and sharpening up (no pun intended) their sharps incident policy and practice.
Why the HSE should stir into action at this stage is something of a mystery. We should hope that they might lead rather than follow, but that is rarely the case. In their discussion paper that considers, but does not promise, a consultation exercise, the options are:
Amending the existing legislation to add in the additional requirements of the Agreement – this would involve inserting new requirements or additions/qualifications to existing requirements within various existing statutory instruments.
Create new Regulations to transpose the substantive requirements, following the wording of the Agreement, where possible.
Copying out the Agreement entirely as a new set of Regulations.
HSE declare a belief that Option 2 is the only credible option but that is yet to be ratified. If new regulations are to be drafted, these should be all-embracing.
The EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU specifies protection ONLY for the healthcare sector. However, waste handlers and ancillary workers are at similar risk of injury and generally fare less well since their employment details puts them outside the necessary catchment for the urgent specialist care that 2010/32 demands.
There are several issues. Since discarded drug litter is both common and high risk, will needle exchange schemes invest in the best available fully automatic safety syringes? The cheapest options, unsurprisingly favoured by the majority of NHS Trusts require that the user presses the cover against a hard surface to swing it over the exposed needle. How likely is it that addicts will do that? If they are content to drop unsheathed needles and syringes after use how likely is it that they might first activate a safety device? For this group, only fully automated devices will work, and may fortuitously reduce also the incidence of needle sharing between users.
COSHH regulations are widely abused by many H&S professionals and their employers to ‘keep a clean sheet’ with the most cavalier of interpretations to avoid statutory reporting. However, some incidents and conditions are mandated for immediate reporting irrespective of outcome. Regrettably, sharps injury does not fall within this category, denying HSE of valuable accident incidence data that will identify particular risk areas and events.
Now is the time to bring pressure to bear on HSE, to shape any regulation such that the UK will stand ahead in sharps injury prevention and improved sharps injury management for all of those who may be exposed and not only healthcare professionals.