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Who is at risk?
A variety of workers are at risk of suffering from a needlestick injury during their daily activity. Workers with high risks include those working in the healthcare sector, as well as workers in the prison and probation services, police and social work. However, construction maintenance workers and those in the demolition industry can be exposed to this hazard when needles are not properly disposed of.
What is the risk?
The main risk from a needlestick injury is exposure to blood-borne viruses (BBV) such as Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Of these three viruses a vaccination exists only for Hepatitis B – no vaccination exists for Hepatitis C and HIV.
Workers can acquire a BBV infection when the skin is punctured or scratched by a needle or sharp device and they then have been exposed to infected blood. Other ways to be infected from infected blood or body fluids can be through the eyes, inside of the mouth and nose.
The prevalence of blood-borne viruses in the general UK population is generally low and the risk of infection from needlestick injuries remains low.
Do not put your unprotected hands anywhere you cannot see:
- If you cannot see what you are going to touch, wear appropriate protective gloves.
- Cover any cuts or abrasions with waterproof plasters.
- Under no circumstances should any worker be expected to touch a discarded needle with their bare hands.
- Where needles are found there must be a procedure for safe disposal.
What to do after a needlestick injury has occurred?
It is normally recommended that if a needlestick injury occurs the bleeding should be encouraged and the wound washed in warm running water with soap. Following this, immediate medical treatment should be sought.
If a needlestick injury has taken place, the worker must be offered counseling and periodic monitoring, as blood borne viruses can have long incubation periods. Post-exposure treatments are available for Hepatitis B and HIV. These treatments may reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease.
Nevertheless treatment is unpleasant and can cause significant side effects, and there is no guarantee that it will be successful. Any treatment requires prior counseling and professional advice to ensure that the procedures and possible effects are fully understood.
Checklist for Safety Representatives
- Are there any workers who might be at risk of needlestick injuries?
- Is the risk of needlestick injury addressed in a risk assessment?
- Is there a policy on needlestick injury, and has a safe system of work been developed?
Does the policy include:
- How to deal with needles found or reported.
- The use of personal protective equipment.
- Safe disposal.
- First aid (including access to warm water).
- Post-exposure arrangements.
- Is the policy fully followed?
- Has training been provided?
- Has the issue been discussed at the safety committee?
HSE Website: www.hse.gov.uk/healthservices/needlesticks
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