European Sharps Directive To Protect Healthcare Workers
Sharps directive is required to protect healthcare workers.
In 2010, the European Council described sharps injuries as one of the most pertinent health and safety threats in European workplaces with an estimated 1 million injuries occurring each year.
This startling number shows that sharps injuries in the healthcare industry are far more common than we think. For example, studies have shown that scalpel blades have the highest incidence rate of injuries at 662 per 100,000 scalpels removed (Eisenstein & Smith, 1992). Sharps injuries, especially in health care settings, significantly increase the risk of contracting a blood borne disease such as HIV or Hepatitis B, can cause chronic illnesses and death and may lead to the end of one’s career in the healthcare industry, .
These preventable injuries can also be damaging to healthcare institutions. Each year in the UK, £500,000 is spent by National Health Service (NHS) institutions alone to treat needle stick injuries. Such expensive fines, payouts and treatments will divert already pressurised funds available for patient diagnosis, treatment and care. Healthcare institutions may also need to cover costly staff turnover, litigation and compensation.
These human and economic costs associated with sharp injuries led to the introduction of safety legislation to protect healthcare professionals in the EU.
European Sharps Directive (EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU)
The pathway to establishing a sharps directive in the EU commenced in February 2005, when the European Parliament adopted a resolution on promoting health and safety at the workplace. This resolution included a call on the European Commission to ensure EU-member countries implemented preventive measures to protect healthcare professionals from sharps injuries.
After a lengthy 5-year negotiation process, the European Council Directive on sharps Injury prevention (Council Directive 2010/32/EU) was issued in May 2010. The EU sharps directive aims to:
- Achieve the safest possible working environment for employees in the healthcare sector
- Protect healthcare workers who are at risk
- Prevent injuries to workers caused by the use of sharps
- Set up an integrated approach to evaluating and preventing risks
- Train and inform healthcare workers
How do the provisions in the EU Directive result in a safer work place?
The EU sharps directive aims to work towards the safest possible workplace for healthcare professional through reducing the risk of sharps injuries. If a risk assessment indicates a potential of injury, it is the responsibility of employers to mitigate this risk by adhering to the following three steps:
- Implement safer procedures
- Eliminate unnecessary use of sharps
- Provide safety-engineered medical devices such as single-handed scalpel blade removers that incorporate protection from sharps
How effective is the Directive? An analysis in the UK.
Despite the fact that this Directive is now mandatory, many trusts in the UK have not yet fully complied, as indicated by MindMetre, an independent research organisation. The organisation has conducted surveys on the passage of relevant EU legislation and regulation, and investigated attitudes to sharps injury prevention across Europe.
The results reveal that the proportion of safer sharp devices in use is still nowhere near being fully compliant regardless the progress made in the UK. Compliance rates also vary across different areas; for example, “cannulation” has the highest compliance rate of 79% but in the injection category, only 44% of devices were safety-engineered. That means more than half of the medical devices used for injections are not safety compliant.
These findings tell us that practitioners and employers may be complacent over the danger of sharps injuries and associated infections and illnesses. As you may be aware, a small amount of blood can transmit potentially fatal infections and illness and hence, the low compliance rate is very concerning.
This report also sheds light on how individual efforts are required to make the Directive successful: regulation body and authority can legislate for change in practices, but it is up to you, a healthcare worker, to implement the changes.
Eisenstein, H. C., & Smith, D. A. (1992). Epidemiology of reported sharps injuries in a tertiary care hospital. Journal of Hospital Infection, 20(4), 271-280.