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Archive June 2020 XXI, No. 6

Be Mindful About Sharps Injuries

Eliminating sharps injuries demands ensuring staff use proper handling techniques and safety-engineered devices, and a singular focus on the task at hand.

Barbara DiTullio

Barbara DiTullio, RN, BSN, MA


CRITICAL CONCENTRATION Eliminating distractions during critical moments of surgery is as important as staff training.

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since the enactment of the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. The landmark legislation requires surgical facilities to identify, evaluate and implement safer sharps devices, maintain a sharps injury log and involve frontline staff in the evaluation and selection of safety-engineered devices. Over those two decades, facilities have invested in sharps safety education, awareness and training, as well as the web-based reporting of injuries. They’ve encouraged the use of safer sharps alternatives such as shielded hypodermic needles, sharps containment devices, neutral zone mats and blunt suture needles. They’ve implemented changes in protocols such as double gloving and hands-free passing.

Yet the sharps injury problem persists. Percutaneous injuries in the surgical environment, particularly those involving curved suture needles, increased by 6.5% in the eight years following the passage of the Act. Data gathered by the Massachusetts Sharps Injury Surveillance System from 2010 to 2015 showed 40% of healthcare sharps injuries occur in the OR, with suture needle incidents the most common injuries in surgical settings. A review of 2018 data at my facility reflected the same trends: 70 percutaneous injuries occurred in the OR, with 73% sustained from curved suture needles and 66% occurring during wound closure.

In early 2013, our facility established a program known as Job Safety Behavioral Observation (JSBO) to review and understand employee injuries, with sharps and suture needle injuries being central to this work. We seemed to be doing everything right in terms of sharps safety practices, but the numbers didn’t lie. No one on our staff intended to get stuck with a sharp, or stick someone else, but it still happened far too frequently. Was there a missing variable in our sharps safety equation?

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