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Needlestick Injuries Remain a Problem for Hospitals

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, January 26, 2010

There is a lot of focus on patient safety, emergency management, and other hot-button issues, but needle-related injuries still present significant regulatory risks for hospitals.

For at least the 10th year in row, the latest OSHA statistics show that the agency's bloodborne pathogens standard was the most cited in general acute care hospitals in fiscal year 2009. The standard requires a variety of measures to prevent exposures to blood and other potentially infectious bodily fluids, including steps to avoid needlesticks and an exposure control plan.

Evidence from the ECRI Institute—a respected healthcare research firm in Plymouth Meeting, PA—reinforces the occupational dangers of needle injuries. The firm's list of the 10 most hazardous medical technologies, includes warnings about needlesticks and other sharps injuries.

Among the recommendations from the ECRI Institute is to ensure that staff members don't make assumptions that a needle or other sharp instrument is shielded just because a safety mechanism appears activated.

Under the bloodborne pathogens standard, OSHA requires hospitals to provide engineering and work practice controls to minimize employee exposures to blood. Engineering controls include sharps disposal containers, self-sheathing needles, needleless systems, and other safety needle technologies.

There is a considerable amount of superficial compliance with the bloodborne pathogens standard that can get hospitals into trouble, says Bradford Hammock, a partner with law firm Jackson Lewis LLP, in Reston, VA, where he heads the workplace safety compliance practice group. Hammock, who writes the "OSHA Law Blog," is formerly OSHA's lead counsel for safety standards.

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