Archive February 2017 XVIII, No. 2

Safety: Inside Our Sharps Safety Success

We slashed percutaneous injuries in our ORs by more than one-third.

Mary Pat Gilligan, DNP, CNOR, NEA-BC

sharps safety NEUTRAL ZONE You create a hands-free neutral zone that minimizes injuries when the OR team places and retrieves sharp instruments on a brightly colored instrument tray.

Two years ago, OR team members across our health system were stuck or cut 276 times, which was 276 more times more than we'd have liked. We implemented a safety program that reduced sharps injuries by 37%. Here's how we pulled it off.

1Sharing of stats
Surgeons, nurses and techs are typically guilty of focusing more on patient safety than on their own well-being and often take sharps safety for granted. Sticks and cuts? Can't happen to me. But it can and does at alarming rates around the country. To get your staff and surgeons to change their sharps handling practices, you first have to convince them of the very real dangers that sharps present. Try sharing these compelling numbers: 30% of the estimated 380,000 sharps injuries and needlesticks that occur in health care happen in the OR; and sutures (43%), scalpels (17%), and syringes (12%) account for most sharps-related percutaneous injuries.

We started to see dramatic improvements in sharps handling practices after presenting those stats at monthly physician-led committees and staff meetings. The constant sharing of statistics and clinical data about the incidences and risks of exposure will hammer home the importance of sharps safety. Show new surgeons, nurses and techs the same information before they step foot in your ORs. Make your facility's culture of safety crystal clear before they pick up a sharp for the first time.

2Neutral zone passing
The surgical team should verbally agree during the pre-op briefing whether a case will involve hand-to-hand passing or use of a hands-free neutral zone. Whenever possible, you should use a neutral zone. Your team should designate and announce the area where sharps will be placed for surgeons or techs to pick up. Using a towel on the corner of a Mayo stand works, and is definitely better than using no neutral zone at all, but we've found that commercially available products such as brightly colored magnetic basins and rubber pads work best for several reasons. They offer a visual cue of where the neutral zone is located, they're more stable (Mayo stands can get bumped during cases) and they keep sharps in place once they're laid on the surfaces.

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