Needle and Sharps Safety for Nurses and Healthcare Professionals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 385,000 cases of needlesticks and sharps-related injuries occur among healthcare personnel annually. These injuries happen in all kinds of settings including emergency rooms, private homes, nursing homes, private clinics, and others. 

Needles and sharps pose a significant risk to health and safety in the healthcare profession. Through needle and sharp injuries, there’s a potential to be exposed to bloodborne pathogens such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). 

Nurses and nursing staff most often work with needles and sharps in a manner that exposes them to the risk of injury. Whether from unsafe needle devices, unsafe handling, or other causes, the injuries can lead to serious threats to health and safety. Fortunately, these injuries and related illnesses are often preventable. 

What You Need to Know About Needle and Sharps Injuries

A needle and sharps injury is any penetrating wound from a scalpel, needle, or other sharp objects that could expose you to another person’s bodily fluids or blood. These types of injuries expose you to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). 

Keep in mind that needles and sharps are not the only devices associated with percutaneous injuries — but they are the most prevalent. 

In fact, disposable syringes and suture needles accounted for roughly half of all percutaneous injuries reported (52%). In addition to that, scalpel blades accounted for six percent of all reported sharps injuries, and IV stylets (3%) and winged steel needles (2%) also played a role in a total of five percent of cases. 

Other kinds of devices associated with percutaneous injuries include:

  • Drill bits or burs (1.3%)
  • Vacuum tubes used for blood collection (2.6%)
  • Reusable scalpels (2.3%)
  • Electro-cautery (1.10%)
  • Pre-filled syringes (1.2%)
  • Wire (1.8%)
  • Retractors, including skin/bone hooks (1.8%)

Overall, there are many different devices that can lead to injuries, and it is your responsibility to take action to reduce sharps injuries and stay safe by knowing when injuries are most likely and what to do to reduce the likelihood of getting cut or punctured. 

When to Watch Out for Needle and Sharps Injuries 

Needle and sharps injuries can happen at any time you’re holding or working with them, but they tend to occur: 

  • During use (51.8%)
  • Between steps of a multi-step process (12.9%)
  • After use but before disposal (10.2%) 
  • When recapping (3.1%)

These aren’t the only times you’ll be exposed to sharps or needles though, as they’re only responsible for approximately three-quarters of all injuries (74.9%). Other common times these injuries occur include:

  • While disposing of them (2%)
  • While preparing the item for reuse (2%)
  • While disassembling (2%)
  • After use when the device is left on the table, bed, or floor (2.6%)
  • While restraining a patient (.5%)

Stay Safe with Sharps and Needles

Sharps injuries can lead to many issues for both a healthcare facility and the injured healthcare personnel. Due to these risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all people working with blood or potentially infectious materials to wear personal protective equipment. 

Even with it, though, accidents can happen. Sharps or needle injuries can result in:

  • The loss of employee time while they recover from injuries or treat their wounds
  • Costs related to investigations into the cause of an injury
  • The cost of replacing or reassigning staff members
  • Post-exposure treatment requirements and associated costs
  • Extra expenses for laboratory testing of both the source patient and you, the healthcare worker

It is possible for you to take steps to mitigate the risk of sharp-related injuries. To do so, follow these tips to decrease your risk of a needle stick injury: 

  1. Avoid using needles when there are safe, effective alternatives available such as blunt-tip cannulas. 
  2. Make sure to use devices with safety features when they’re provided by your facility. A device with sharps injury protection features (SIP) may have a retractable edge or needle or a design without a needle or sharp at all.
  3. Place needles directly into sharps disposal containers rather than recapping them. Recapping needles can lead to accidentally puncturing the fingers or hand, exposing you to dangerous drugs, chemicals, or biological agents.
  4. Make a plan to safely handle and dispose of all needles before taking them out for use. For example, perform the injection near a sharps disposal container or have a tray nearby where you can safely place the needle or sharp until you can dispose of it.
  5. As soon as you can, dispose of all needles in the appropriately placed and marked sharps disposal containers provided to you. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all disposable sharps containers to be closable and kept in an upright position. They should be replaced regularly and not be overfilled to avoid accidental cuts or needlesticks.

Steps to Take After Needle and Sharps Injuries

What should you do if you’re injured by needles or sharps? Although it would be preferable for no cuts or punctures to ever happen in the workplace, that’s not reality. If you do get cut or punctured by needles or sharps, you must take immediate action. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Wash the area with soap and water immediately
  2. Continue to flush the area (including splashes that affect the mouth or nose) with water
  3. If your eyes have been injured, irrigate them with sterile irrigants, saline, or clean water
  4. Inform your supervisor as soon as possible and seek appropriate medical treatment. You may need to go through lab testing or have other medical treatments depending on the circumstances.

Don’t panic if you’re stuck by a needle or cut by a sharp object but do take steps to clean the area and speak with your supervisor so you can get appropriate treatment as soon as you can. There are post-exposure prophylactics, antibiotics, and other kinds of treatments that may help prevent you from developing an illness, and you may need to see a doctor yourself to correctly tend to any significant lacerations.

As an SHC talent, we encourage you to practice sharp and needle safety, and we are here to help. For more about Supplemental Health Care or how we can work together to support needle and sharps safety in healthcare, reach out to our team.