Are safety sharp devices really safe?

A couple of years ago, when the talk about the potential of safety sharp devices in reducing sharps injuries I had a wager with a good friend, that the incidence of injuries would fall and then rise again through complacency. After all, these devices are ‘safe’, so its perhaps understandable that the level of care taken during use and disposal will wane.

Already, we know that there is a steady trickle of used sharps finding their way into wastes sacks intended only for soft wastes. My wager proposes that the degree of complacency, I predict will result in yet more problems in source segregation and more disposal errors that place others, ancillary staff, laundry workers and waste handlers, at increased risk of sharps injury.

Further problems are likely to arise, contributing to a persistent number of sharps injuries, due to the diversity of devices available on the market and the lack of uniformity for the users of these devices. Though it is likely that only one main device will be available in any hospital as staff move from job to job there will be an additional period of familiarisation with a new sharps safety device. For those used to an automated needle retraction system, use of a manual alternative might well result in a proportion of those devices discarded without activation.

Now a recent report from NIOSH presents data from the Exposure Prevention Information Network (EPINet™) that “indicate this number [or sharps injuries] may have been increasing steadily during the past nine years”. And this in the US, where sharps safety devices are already in widespread and almost universal use.

A high proportion of these injuries occur during sharps use. However, a proportion are disposal-related incidents and these too continue to rise. Why is this?

Sad though it may be, perhaps it will soon be time to collect on my wager!

Ian

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