Archive April 2015 XVI, No. 4

5 Steps to Safer Sharps Handling

These precautions limit risks of sticks and cuts.

Sherri Alexander, CST, FAST, CRCST


handling sharps safely

I'm a surgical technologist by trade. Handling sharps in the sterile field is a big part of what I do. My advice: Make sure your staff understands the importance of these straightforward but effective ways to limit their risk of injury from scalpel blades, needles and instruments. They shouldn't have to learn about sharps safety the hard way, like I did.

1 Know before you reach
Many years ago, I was cleaning up after an ortho trauma case. Another staff member, who had entered the room to help, placed a newly sharpened osteotome in the pan of water I was using to rinse instruments. I stuck my hand in the pan to grab a sponge and cut my left index finger on the instrument. It took 4 stitches to close the gash, but a blood test revealed no infection. I was lucky.

The incident served as a valuable learning experience, one that provided me with lessons I remember to this day: Always know where sharps are located, from the time they're needed to the moment they're disposed of, and always look before you reach.

2 Keep the sterile field organized
Sharps should always be easily visible and placed where they are at no risk to you or anyone who reaches onto the Mayo stand or back table. To help keep track of where sharps are at all times, place them in standardized spots, no matter what kind of case you're working. Managing the same setup — needles here, blades there — lets you know intuitively where to reach and where to avoid. Keep very few sharps on the Mayo stand; store them instead on the back table.

3 Maintain eye contact
You know surgeons will keep their gaze on the surgical site when passing, so it's your responsibility to watch sharps to ensure they're handled correctly. Keeping direct eye contact on the sharp — never pass a sharp while looking at the back table, which I've seen done — lets you meet the surgeon's hand to place or remove items in a safe way.

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