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Needlestick injuries are wounds typically caused by needles that accidently penetrate the skin. These types of injuries can occur when people use, dissemble or dispose of needles. If the needle is contaminated with blood or other body fluid, it is possible that it could transmit a number of infectious diseases, particularly blood-borne viruses. When this occurs in a work context, the term occupational exposure is used.
Needlestick injuries are most common in healthcare workers, but can also affect cleaners, carers, refuse collectors, tattoo artists and children who pick up used needles. In recent years there has been major concerns regarding the transmitting of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV through needlestick injuries.
In the UK, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) monitors the occupational exposure of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C to patients and healthcare workers. A report compiled by the HPA in 2012 stated that between 2002 and 2011, most occupational needlestick injuries involved those working in nursing professions. There was also a significant increase in injuries involving those in medical and dental professions.
How to prevent needlestick injuries
The HPA advises taking the following measures to avoid needlestick injuries:
Wash hands before and after contact with each patient and prior to putting on and after removing gloves.
Change gloves between patients.
Wear gloves when cleaning equipment before sterilisation or disinfection.
Cover any existing wounds, skin lesions and any breaks in exposed skin with waterproof dressings.
Where contact with blood is anticipated, wear gloves.
Avoid using sharp instruments where possible. Where usage is essential, exercise particular care in handling and disposal.
Avoid wearing open footwear in situations where blood could be split, or where sharp instruments are handled.
Clear up any spillage of blood promptly and disinfect all services.
Occupational health assessments should identify those people at higher risk of infection (e.g. eczema).
Ensure that advice is given regarding minimising any occupational health risk to which they may be exposed.
Follow safe procedures regarding the disposal of contaminated waste.
What can you do if you’re a victim of a needle stick injury
All employers have a responsibility to provide for the health and safety of their workers through the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. If you have suffered a needlestick injury through the negligence of your employer, contact Mercury Legal Online on 0800 122 3130. Alternatively complete our claim form and one of our claims experts will call you back to discuss your claim.