UVa Healthcare Worker Safety Center and American Nurses Association Issue Call to Action

In the 10 years since the passage of the federal Needlestick Safety and Protection Act, much progress has been made to reduce the risk of healthcare worker exposure to bloodborne pathogens—yet significant challenges remain. Earlier in March, The International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia and the American Nurses Association (ANA), along with colleagues across the spectrum of healthcare, agreed on a Consensus Statement and Call to Action to address these issues.

“We view this as a roadmap for future progress in preventing needlesticks, one of the most serious occupational risks healthcare workers face,” according to Center Director and UVa Professor Janine Jagger, MPH, PhD.

The eight-page statement provides “a snapshot of where we are now and where further work is needed in order to continue to protect healthcare workers from this risk they face every day in the line of duty,” Jagger says.

The Call to Action focuses on five pivotal areas in need of attention:

1. Improve sharps safety in surgical settings;?2. Understand and reduce exposure risks in non-hospital settings (which include physicians’offices, clinics, home healthcare, and an array of other settings);?3. Involve frontline workers in the selection of safety devices;?4. Address gaps in available safety devices, and encourage innovative designs andtechnology;?5. Enhance worker education and training.

ANA, which launched the Safe Needles Save Lives campaign in the late 1990s to advocate for national legislation, was the first nursing organization to endorse the statement. ANA represents the interests of the nation’s 3.1 million registered nurses.

“Needlestick injuries are preventable and cannot be tolerated as a cost of doing business. Healthcare organizations are charged with ensuring safety and preventing harm—to patients, employees and the public. Unfortunately, needlesticks still occur, whether from lack of education and training, complacency or frugality,” said ANA President Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN.

“For more than 10 years, healthcare workers have been protected from these risks to their careers and lives by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. Nurses need to hold employers accountable for following the law and refuse to accept anything less,” Daley said. “Progress has been made, but the law provides only a framework. It is up to people to create the culture of safety necessary to minimize incidents.”

Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), expressed OSHA’s support and noted, “The goal of this consensus statement, which is to continue the progress in reducing the risk of sharps injuries to healthcare workers, is one that is in line with OSHA’s mission.”

Organizations endorsing the statement represent a wide range of nursing specialties, including surgical, infusion, medical-surgical, occupational health, neonatal, and critical care, and many different settings, such as ambulatory care and veterans affairs. Safety and educational organizations are also among the signers, along with AdvaMed, the medical device trade association.

The Consensus Statement notes that healthcare workers in non-hospital settings account for about 65 percent of the U.S. healthcare workforce — a proportion that will continue to grow over the next decade. While safety-engineered devices are in widespread use in most hospitals and clinical laboratories, market data show that their use in non-hospital settings lags behind. Health and Human Services agencies such as CDC/NIOSH and other government and non- governmental agencies and professional organizations need to support epidemiological research that evaluates risks to workers in a wide range of non-hospital settings, the statement says. It also urges professional organizations representing non-hospital care settings to make sharps safety a priority and ensure availability of appropriate devices and educational and training materials which are targeted for workers in these settings.

The statement, along with a complete list of endorsing organizations, can be viewed at the Center’s website: http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/safetycenter/Consensus_statement_sharps_injury_ prevention.pdf