What are Sharps?
The Regulations define sharps as ‘objects or instruments necessary for the exercise of specific healthcare activities, which are capable of cutting, pricking or causing injury or infection’.
Sharps are considered to be work equipment within the meaning of Regulation 2 of the Safety, Health and
Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007.
Examples of sharps include:
• Needles – hollow needles used to inject drugs (medication) under the skin
• Syringes – devices used to inject medication into or withdraw fluid from the body
• Lancets, also called “finger stick” devices – instruments with a short, two-edged blade used to get drops of blood for testing. Lancets are commonly used in the treatment of diabetes.
• Auto Injectors, including epinephrine and insulin pens – syringes pre-filled with fluid medication designed to be self-injected into the body
• Infusion sets – tubing systems with a needle used to deliver drugs to the body.
• Connection needles/sets – needles that connect to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. This is generally used for patients on home haemodialysis.
“Sharps” are also used by many people and pets, at home or at work etc. to manage medical conditions, these medical conditions include allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, and psoriasis.
How do I dispose of contaminated needles?
ALL contaminated sharps should be disposed of by following HSE guidelines
• Discarded sharps items and complete needle and syringe units directly into sharps box immediately after use.
• Where possible, used sharps should not be taken to the sharps box., it is safer to have the sharps box close to area where it is being used
• Place sharps boxes at eye level and within arm’s reach.
• Do not move used syringes with needles to other areas unless they are in a sharps box and can be transported safely.
• Always use appropriate safe equipment when handling contaminated sharps.
• Sharps boxes should be collected, transported and incinerated by a licenced waste carrier.
How can I safely use a Sharps box?
The following procedure should be adopted with regards to the use of containers provided for the disposal of used needles and other sharp objects. The sharps container:
• Must be taken to patient when using sharps, where possible.
• Must be an approved container that complies with the requirement of UN 3291 as required by the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Legislation.
• Must be easily available in all areas where sharps are used, but must not be accessible by children/young people.
• Must be assembled correctly and checked to ensure all connections are solid.
• MUST NOT be overfilled (not more than 75 per cent full).
• Must be made secure prior to placing for collection and must not be left where there may be access by children/young people.
• Must be labelled with the:
o Hospital, Nursing Home, Clinic etc.
o Name of the individual who prepared the sharps box, Inc. date.
o Name of individual who closed and locked/disposed of it.
• The box must be dated before being sent for incineration by a licenced waste carrier.
• If any sharps are protruding through the container or opening, DO NOT attempt to remedy the situation by pushing the items inside.
• If a container has been overfilled, DO NOT decant any of the contents. If possible place inside a larger sharps container and arrange for disposal.
What is a sharps injury?
A sharps injury is an incident, which causes a needle, blade (such as scalpel) or other medical instruments to penetrate the skin. This is sometimes called a percutaneous injury.
What is the risk?
The main risk from a sharps injury is the potential exposure to infections such as blood-borne viruses (BBV). This can occur where the injury involves a sharp that is contaminated with blood or a bodily fluid from a patient. The blood-borne viruses of most concern are:
• Hepatitis B (HBV)
• Hepatitis C (HCV)
• Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The transmission of infection depends on a number of factors, including the person's natural immune system. We know the number of injuries each year is high, but only a small number are known to have caused infections that led to serious illness. However, the effects of the injury and anxiety about its potential consequences, including the adverse side effects of post-exposure prophylaxis can have a significant personal impact on an injured employee.
Who is at risk?
Waste carriers, healthcare staff, and others in health and social care are at risk. This includes those who directly handle sharps but also includes workers who may inadvertently be put at risk when sharps are not stored or disposed of correctly.
There is a higher risk of infection from a sharps injury involving hollow-bore needles. Higher risk procedures include intra-vascular cannulation, venepuncture and injections and use of IV cannulae, winged steel-butterfly-needles, needles and syringes and phlebotomy needles.
What the law says
Health and safety law applies to risks from sharps injuries, just as it does to other risks from work activities. Relevant legislation includes:
• The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
• The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002
• The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999
• The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)
Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013
These Regulations implement the EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU on the prevention of sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector.
The Regulations only apply to employers, contractors and workers in the healthcare sector. NHS Trusts/Boards, independent healthcare businesses and other employers whose main activity is the management, organisation and provision of healthcare will be subject to the Regulations.
HSE has produced Health Services Information Sheet 7 - Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 to provide guidance on how to comply with the Regulations.
Call the experts
As a waste producer do you know if you are compliant? Do you know how effective or if your waste disposal service represents value for money? Not sure? then talk to Principal Hygiene we can help you with advice and support ensuring you have the right services in place that delivers value for money, is compliant and meets your waste disposal needs.
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