NIOSH: Healthcare Workers Most Injured by Sharps

By Guy Burdick

Most sharps injuries—84%—occur among healthcare workers, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirmed in a recently released analysis. Injuries from a needle or other sharp objects can expose workers to bloodborne pathogens (BBP), such as human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases, NIOSH said in the September edition of its eNews.

While acknowledging that BBP and sharps injuries are a concern specific to healthcare workers, institute researchers found that sharps injuries also occur among workers in other industries.

NIOSH researchers found that after healthcare, sharps injuries occur most often in four other industries:

  • Justice, public order, and safety;
  • Traveler accommodation;
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools, such as junior colleges; and
  • Pharmacies and drug stores.

Retail pharmacy chain Rite Aid Corp. recently reached a settlement agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to resolve the agency’s citation for a BBP violation at the chain’s Niagara Falls, New York, store.

Rite Aid agreed to implement a program to protect employees, including front-end customer service staff, against BBP hazards at its approximately 370 New Jersey and New York stores.

The NIOSH analysis looked at an estimated 875,900 work-related sharps injuries that were treated in hospital emergency departments over a 15-year period. Most sharps injuries occurred among female workers and younger workers—under 35 years old.

Healthcare workers had an injury rate of 16.7 per 10,000 full-time employees (FTE)—a rate more than six times the rate for all workers of 2.7 per 10,000 FTE.

NIOSH reiterated the need for standardized education about preventing sharps injuries for all workers who are at risk. The institute said that research should continue to focus on how and when sharps injuries occur, especially among younger healthcare workers.

report on NIOSH’s research appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.