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Injuries to hospital staff reduced thanks to safety needles and other devices

Posted Feb 20th, 2008

Niagara, ON - The number of needle-related staff injuries has dropped by almost 40 per cent since the Niagara Health System (NHS) introduced new safety needles and other products in 2005.

Thanks to new retractable injection needles, safety-engineered intravenous (IV) catheters, blood collection systems, and safer disposal containers, the number of staff injuries dropped to 50 in 2007, as compared to 81 in 2005. These types of injuries often occur during a lab procedure, after inserting a needle into a patient or while disposing of the syringe.

February is Sharps Injury Prevention Month and the newly released injury rates are part of an awareness campaign for hospital staff.

"The safety of our staff and patients is paramount and since 2005 we have been introducing safety-engineered needles and other products to create a safer environment within our hospitals," says Tracy MacDonald, Chief Nursing Executive and Vice President, Patient Services. "We have been working closely with the leadership of our unions – Ontario Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union, and Ontario Public Service Employees Union – on these initiatives as they too have the safety of their members at the forefront."

Safer engineering in injection needles and catheters used to start IV lines is based on a retractable needle design. The needle and syringe works like a spring-loaded pen, where a simple click will fully retract the needle into the barrel of the syringe. These products are designed to virtually eliminate the risk of contaminated needle-stick injuries that can transmit HIV, hepatitis B and C and many other infectious blood-borne diseases. "The safety-engineered needles come at a higher cost, but we know the cost to our staff's health can be much greater if there is an injury," MacDonald says.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, needle-stick injuries account for more than 18,000 new cases of hepatitis annually in the U.S., so the risk to our nursing, laboratory and operating room staff, as well as our housekeeping staff is considerable," MacDonald says. "The fact that our rates of needle-stick injuries have dropped almost 40 per cent in just two years shows the difference safer products can make."

Another key area that has reduced needle-stick injuries is the way in which needles are disposed. Throughout all seven NHS sites, new recyclable disposal containers have been installed, designed with safety in mind. These rectangular boxes are wall-mounted specifically for needles and other sharps and cannot be overfilled. Nor can the lid be opened. Once a needle or syringe is deposited, a double closing seal prevents anyone from reaching inside and once the box is full, the opening will no longer allow more needles to be thrown in. This reduces the number of improper disposal injuries. When full, the sharps containers are taken to the loading dock, where a recycling company picks them up and provides empty containers for re-use.

"Last year for the first time, we had zero injuries from sharps containers," MacDonald said. "We know our new products are making our hospitals safer for staff and our patients, and we are currently getting feedback from staff on a new sharps injury prevention policy and procedure to ensure we stay on the right track."

The provincial government is mandating that all hospitals buy safety-engineered devices by September 2008. "Because we started a few years ago, our staff is now comfortable with using the safety-engineered needles and other devices, so we'll have no problem in being more than ready for the September deadline," MacDonald said.

Niagara Health System