Needles, scalpels and similar sharp instruments, commonly referred to as ‘sharps’ are essential tools for effective medical care. They can be a source of injury and ill-health to care workers and others because they are both sharp and can be contaminated with hazardous and infectious materials. As such employers who use them must assess the risks from their use and take reasonably practicable measures to prevent injury or ill-health as a result of their use.

New regulations governing their use come into force on 11 May 2013 to implement those parts of the European Union Sharps Directive, 2010/32/EU that are not covered by existing UK legislation.

The new regulations apply only to employers whose main business is the organisation or provision of healthcare and to contractors, working for a healthcare employer, whose staff may be at risk of a sharps injury while on the premises of or working under the control of the healthcare employer. Cleaners, laundry workers, caretakers, agency nurses, waste disposal workers and locum doctors fall into this category.

Existing legislation requires the safe management of sharps, across all sectors, including an assessment of the risks, the provision of appropriate information and training, and consultation with employees. The Sharps Regulations, the Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013, introduce additional specific duties.

The Regulations set out a hierarchy of preventative control measures similar to those relating to hazardous substances. In particular they require healthcare employers and their contractors;

To avoid the unnecessary use of sharps.

Suppliers have developed needle-free equipment for a number of individual procedures and this equipment should be used, where it is reasonably practicable to do so.

To use safer sharps (incorporating protection mechanisms).

Where it is not reasonably practicable to entirely avoid the use of medical sharps, the Sharps Regulations require employers to use a ‘safer sharp’ if it is reasonably practicable to do so. In recent years manufacturers of medical instruments have begun to produce instruments that incorporate features or mechanisms to prevent or minimise the risk of accidental injury

To prevent the recapping of needles.

Injuries can occur after a needle has been used if the healthcare worker holds the needle in one hand and attempts to place a cap on the needle with the other hand (so-called two-handed recapping).

To provide secure containers and instructions for safe disposal of medical sharps close to the work area.

To provide information and training.

The regulations supplement existing requirements to provide health and safety information and training for staff by specifying specific matters that should be in their training

To make arrangements to be followed in the event of injury.

Employers are required to take specific actions in the event of a sharps injury. This means they need to have procedures in place to ensure that they can respond effectively and in a timely manner when an injury occurs.

To ensure the treatment and follow-up of a sharps injury.

The employer must ensure that, when notified of any incident in which an employee has been injured by a sharp that has or may have exposed them to a blood-borne virus, the employee:

  • has immediate access to medical advice;
  • has been offered post-exposure prophylaxis and any other medical treatment, as advised by a doctor; and
  • the employer has considered whether counselling would be appropriate for the employee.

To review procedures regularly.

Peninsula‘s BusinessSafe clients have access to Guidance Notes on the Safe Use of Sharps, Infection Control and the Disposal of Health Care Waste as part of their Health and Safety Management System. The existing Guidance Notes are being updated to include advice on meeting the requirements of the new legislation and will be available to them through our BusinessWise computer application.

Until the revised guidance is on-line a comprehensive information sheet explaining the new requirements and clarification of where they apply by contacting our 24 hour Advice Service on 0844 8922772.

By Tony Trenear