Archive Staff & Patient Safety 2013

How We're Eliminating Sharps Injuries

For us, it starts with watching and learning.

Barbara DiTullio, RN, BSN, MA


Ross Simon


sharps injuries ◙ PASSING MAKES PERFECT Constant communication and neutral zones are critical components of proper sharps handling.

In our battle against sharps injuries, we depend on sharp eyes, sharp observational skills, and sometimes even sharp tongues. It's all part of a larger effort to take a close look at what we do, consider how and why we do it, and ask questions — lots of questions.

Why do injuries happen?
When we surveyed our staff about the sharps hazards they saw, everyone expressed concern about the constant rushing. It's true. We're all so focused on time and turnover and minutes and efficiency that rushing is a big contributor to injuries. We talk about being fully present in our work, but it's hard when, as a nurse, you're expected to be a patient advocate, to make sure the surgeon has everything he needs, and at the same time, to look out for yourself and everybody you're working with. How can you be fully present when you have to consistently and constantly multitask?

We're always concerned about our patients' safety, but we tend to be less focused on our own. And our environment is fraught with hazards. Raising awareness so that we're not only mindful about not harming patients, but also about not letting anything happen to us, requires a significant attitude change.

When our occupational health group and staff members worked together to assemble and train observational teams, it was a chance to have conversations about safety that never really take place in a concerted way — to bring to the surface the root causes of injuries. Talking to people in the room and asking questions while things are happening is immensely important. That dedicated conversation about details simply never happens otherwise.

The questions may be simple, like, "If the needle box were in a different place, would it make needlesticks less likely?" or "Do you recap needles and do you know recapping needles is a high-risk event?" or "How do you pass or receive sharps so you avoid injury?" But they lead to important feedback.

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