OH&S, Environmental and Quality Assurance: The handling of Sharps
Sharps are defined in the “National Guidelines for the Management of Clinical and related Wastes” (published by the National Health and Medical Research Council) as:
“Objects or devices having acute rigid corners, edges points or protuberances capable of cutting or penetrating the skin”.
Keeping all staff updated with OH&S developments is an integral part of risk management and ensuring employee safety. Other areas which need to be regularly revisited are the daily risks which may be encountered by day and night cleaning crews. One constant risk which management must ensure cleaning staff are addressing effectively is the handling of sharps: hypodermic needles, lancets, razor/scalpel blades or any other instrument which could result in puncture injuries or damage to skin.
All sharps have the potential to cause injury through cuts or puncture wounds. Sharps can cause accidental injections and cuts when improperly handled. In addition, many sharps are contaminated with blood or body fluids, microbiological materials, toxic chemicals or radioactive substances, posing a risk of infection or illness if they penetrate the skin. Blood contaminated sharps can spread viruses such as those causing Hepatitis B, C and HIV.
SAFE HANDLING PROCEDURES
If you use sharps during the course of your work, there are some basic procedures for safe handling:
- Never put your hands where you cannot see or run fingers behind toilets, wash basins, cupboards.
- Never put your hands into bins.
- Never pick up a sharp with your bare hands.
- Contact supervisor or the client (depending on what has been previously arranged when disposing of sharps).
- Put on heavy duty gloves.
- Use tongs to pick up a needle or syringe and put it in a sharps container.
- Do not hold (or have someone else hold) the container while you are putting a syringe into it put the container on the floor.
- Do not recap / re-sheath needles or lancets.
- Scalpel blades should be removed and disposed of using artery forceps.
- Do not ask for a sharp item to be taken from you or to be disposed of by someone else.
- Do not walk unnecessary distances with a sharp in hand.
- Dispose of sharps in an appropriate sharps container; never in a waste bin or plastic bag.
- Dispose of sharps immediately after use – not later.
- When disposing sharps in a container:
- place the sharp end in first i.e. pointing it away from the body;
- drop the item in rather than push;
- do not place hands inside the container.
- Sharps containers should be replaced when 75% full.
- Sharps containers should be sealed after use.
- Ensure that the sharps container is closed for disposal.
What to do when a SHARPS INJURY occurs!
Locate your nearest first aid officer.
Appropriate action should include:
- Calming the injured person.
- If there is no foreign body lodged, the wound should be cleaned with antiseptic.
- If bleeding occurs a dressing would also be applied.
- If part of a hypodermic needle is lodged, it should be removed and treated accordingly to avoid further penetration.
- The injured should be advised to go immediately to a doctor or attend the Accident and Emergency section at your nearest Hospital for further treatment. If necessary, an ambulance would be called.
- If the sharp is a hypodermic needle it should be collected using gloves, tongs and a sharps container.
- An Accident/Injury/Incident Report form should be completed and forwarded to your Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator.
“National guidelines for the Management of Clinical and related wastes”, National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra.