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The Sharps Safety Agenda: Acknowledging Past Progress, Working Toward the Future


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4. Addressing Gaps in Safety Devices
As the consensus statement notes, "Safety device technology has continued to evolve over the past decade; however, unmet needs remain for many clinical procedures and these gaps need to be addressed. Care settings and device categories for which safety is lacking or choices are limited include nuclear medicine; dentistry and home care; longer-length needles used for bone marrow, bariatric, biopsy, spinal, epidural, and acupuncture procedures; needle extenders for cervical injections; ophthalmic blades; and arterial-line catheters. Greater innovation and more variety are needed, especially for surgical safety devices given the high risk of exposure and relatively low adoption of safety devices in this setting. We also need to encourage continued development of non-needle-based solutions for the delivery of medications, which eliminate sharps injury risk altogether."

The recommendations from the consensus statement are:
- Professional organizations partner with device manufacturers to assess and prioritize device needs for specific clinical applications, to monitor progress in closing existing gaps, and to identify future needs.
- Manufacturers partner with surgeons and surgeon groups to develop suture and scalpel safety designs that both reduce risk and are comfortable and intuitive for surgeons to use. Also, companies that provide pre-packaged surgical and procedure kits must ensure that devices included in these kits comply with the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.

5. Enhancing Education and Training
According to the consensus document, EPINet data from the past two decades have consistently shown that sharps injury rates in teaching hospitals are significantly higher than those for non-teaching hospitals. Although the reasons for this are multi-factorial, it does suggest the need to reevaluate and expand training related to bloodborne pathogens and sharps injury prevention in medical and nursing schools throughout the U.S. Additionally, data from both EPINet and MSISS show that safety devices are a significant source of sharps injuries (although at a much lower rate compared to non-safety devices). Again, the reasons for this can vary, but include not activating the safety mechanism because of insufficient training on how to use the devices. The document notes, "Making training accessible to all can be challenging, particularly when trying to reach shift workers or those in non-hospital settings. Innovative educational tools using a variety of media and settings, including hands-on device 'labs' where users who feel the need for further practice beyond initial training can do so on models, are needed to address the wide range of settings in which healthcare is practiced and sharp devices are used."

"I think the different job categories in healthcare have mutually exclusive training programs so you must look at every relevant job category to see what level of instruction that healthcare professionals receive," Jagger advises. "Phlebotomists, surgical residents and medical students each get their own kind of training and it's very unequal. So for instance, phelbotomists generally will get very specific training related to safety but then you have medical students perform blood draws and they have only had 'see one, do one, teach one,' which is the equivalent of nothing. A blood draw can be a very risky procedure, so the training issues are important ones to address."

The recommendations from the consensus statement are:
- CDC/NIOSH, OSHA, and/or other appropriate government agencies partner with medical, nursing, and allied health schools and accrediting bodies to develop standardized curricula on bloodborne pathogen exposure prevention and the selection and use of safety-engineered devices. Such training is an essential part of the education of all healthcare professionals (both at the beginning of and throughout their careers).
- Healthcare employers provide instruction on an annual basis for all potentially exposed clinicians and other workers (including service workers and purchasing agents) on the appropriate use and disposal of safety devices that are available in their facility, as mandated by OSHA. Such training provides a forum for addressing questions and issues that arise as new devices are introduced.
- Employers, professional educators, manufacturers and employee representatives collaborate to develop training strategies that can be widely applied when new devices are introduced, so that frontline healthcare workers know how to properly use and dispose of them. As a result of the leadership of our partners in the federal government and a variety of stakeholders, the U.S. has made tremendous progress in protecting healthcare workers from exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Other countries look to the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard and NSPA as models for their efforts to address this critical component of occupational safety in healthcare facilities. While we celebrate the progress we have made, we must acknowledge the gaps that exist and redouble our efforts to ensure that all healthcare workers, regardless of the setting in which they practice or the procedures they perform, are offered the same level of protection from sharps injuries and exposures to bloodborne pathogens.

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