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International Safety Center Highlights Pathogen Exposure Risks Faced by Healthcare Workers

The International Safety Center, a global leader in occupational research and advocacy for safer workplaces, today announced the release of EPINet 2015 U.S. hospital surveillance data. EPINet® (the Exposure Prevention Information Network) provides healthcare facilities with a standardized system for tracking the occupational exposures that put healthcare staff at risk. The Center also announced availability of a new Consensus Statement and Call to Action, which documents the role conventional healthcare worker uniforms play in the spread of pathogens and highlights the need to address the high rate of exposures and illness experienced by healthcare workers.
 
The EPINet surveillance system includes employee incident reports on Needlestick and Sharp Object Injuries and on Blood and Body Fluid Exposures. Compared to 2014, in 2015 participating hospitals reported a marked increase in injuries from sharps and needlesticks to training physicians (residents and interns) and an overall increase in injuries sustained in the operating room, along with an unexpected decrease in the use of safety-engineered medical devices. 
 
For blood and body fluid splashes and splatters, the 2015 data show that a greater proportion are occurring in patient and exam rooms than in years past and almost two-thirds involved workers’ eyes. These data are especially alarming because fewer than 7% of the workers involved with those exposures reported that they were wearing eye protection.
 
“While the 2015 EPINet data suggest that pathogen exposure risks to healthcare workers are on the rise, they also indicate that workers are increasingly aware that these exposures are preventable,” said Ginger Parker, the Center’s chief information officer and deputy director. In 2014, only about 30% of injured or exposed healthcare workers said that they felt the injury could have been prevented by engineering controls or other technologies, or by changes in administrative work practices. In contrast, in 2015 almost half (48.7%) of workers reporting sharps injuries and more than two-thirds (68.6%) exposed to blood and body fluid splashes indicated that they thought the exposures were preventable.
 
“These EPINet results should be a wake-up call to the many healthcare institutions concerned about worker and patient safety. The data show rising exposures to sharps and body fluids that can transmit pathogens to healthcare workers, potentially endangering them, their patients and their families,” said Dr. Amber Mitchell, president and executive director of the International Safety Center. “The growing prevalence of fluid-borne infectious organisms affecting the general public, such as hepatitis C and emerging infectious diseases like Zika, highlights the importance of protecting workers from the unanticipated exposures they encounter while providing routine care. The good news is that workers are demonstrating a high degree of awareness of the value of protective products and workplace measures, and are looking to management to make the changes necessary to help them achieve a safer working environment.”
 
Elise Handelman, former director of the Office of Nursing at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and currently a Center faculty member, notes, “When we first began looking at reducing the transmission of bloodborne pathogens 25 years ago, we knew the problem went beyond HIV and chronic hepatitis infections. We are aware now, more than ever, that exposure risks are continually shifting and changing. Only a universal approach to reducing blood exposures, including the use of safer medical devices and personal protective equipment (PPE), can meet the challenges we face with Ebola, malaria, Zika and other bloodborne diseases. The EPINet data help us understand where the greatest risks are occurring and allow us to focus resources where they will be most effective.”
 
The Consensus Statement and Call to Action on Improving Work Wear for Workers at Risk of Exposure to Blood, Body Fluids, and Other Biologic Hazards highlights the need to address the high rate of injuries and illness experienced by healthcare workers. It presents data documenting the role conventional healthcare worker uniforms play in the spread of pathogens and includes a call to action to increase the national sense of urgency about healthcare worker exposures to dangerous body fluids. It also seeks to determine the best path forward for implementing consensus performance standards for PPE and new technologies such as active barrier apparel.
 
The Consensus Statement pointed to EPINet data from 2010-2014 indicating that about 70% of all reported occupational splash or splatter exposures involving body fluids were contaminated with blood. Yet more than 40% of the affected workers indicated that they were wearing everyday clothes or non-protective scrubs or uniforms during the exposure, and only 17% were wearing a protective gown. The Consensus Statement noted that these data leave a great deal of room for implementation of innovative approaches to reduce exposure and any harm that might result. 
 
Mitchell added, “A key goal of the Center is to serve as a catalyst bringing together diverse stakeholders to identify and document actionable healthcare worker safety issues and to leverage their expertise, leadership and influence to bring about positive change. This Consensus Statement working group did a tremendous job of making the case for better worker protection from the unexpected blood and body fluid exposures that are ubiquitous in healthcare settings. Improved practices and new technologies designed to protect workers from unanticipated exposures are increasingly available, and we look forward to working with other organizations to support healthcare institutions’ initiatives to address this important issue.”
 
The Consensus Statement and Call to Action was formulated by representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, Association of Federal Government Employees, Healthcare Surfaces Summit and Association for the Healthcare Environment. The effort was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Vestagen Protective Technologies, Inc.
 
About EPINet®
The EPINet surveillance system gives healthcare facilities standardized tools to:
 Track occupational Sharp Object Injuries and Blood and Body Fluid incidents
 Prevent occupational injuries and illnesses
 Reduce exposures to microorganisms that cause infectious disease, illness and infection
 Reduce costs and improve quality.
Since its introduction in 1992, EPINet has been distributed to over 1,500 U.S. hospitals and to hospitals in 95 countries. Sharps injury and blood and body fluid exposure data from participating healthcare facilities is collected on an annual basis, merged into an aggregate database and analyzed using EPINet software. Participating hospitals vary in size, geographic location and teaching status. Access to the EPINet system is offered to healthcare facilities around the world free of charge.  For more information, visit internationalsafetycenter.org/use-epinet/.
 
Source: International Safety Center

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