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Eliminating a foreseeable risk

Nurses demand government funding to prevent needlestick injuries, saying their lives are being put at risk.

A needlestick injury can be a devastating event. Although the risk of contracting a blood borne pathogen is statistically low, the psychological trauma that follows the injury can be disabling.

And even the smallest of risk is too high.

This has led to nurses demanding government funding to prevent needlestick injuries, saying their lives are being put at risk because of inaction on the issue.

Numbers for Australia show that every year at least 18,000 nurses and other healthcare employees are injured by syringes and sharps. However, currently only about half of healthcare workers report their injury, meaning the actual number could be as high as 30,000, said Anne Trimmer, Medical Technology Association of Australia CEO, said.

These injuries generate significant cost for the Australian healthcare system and can result in great stress for the injured workers and their families. Nurses sustaining injuries from contaminated syringes were put at great risk of contracting hepatitis B or C, or HIV/AIDS.

A recent report published by the Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council found that needlesticks and other sharps are identified as high risk occupational hazards by 43.5 per cent of nurses. The report shows that one in nine nurses had at least one needlestick or other sharps injury in the past 12 months.

An informal coalition of interested groups has united to raise awareness of the issue as a workplace health and safety concern and to advance reforms to improve prevention of these injuries.

“Every needlestick or sharp object injury at work is a foreseeable hazard to healthcare employees,” said Trimmer.

“The elimination of workplace hazard and risk is a fundamental principle of occupational health and safety legislation. The risk of occupational exposure to blood borne pathogens from a needlestick or sharp object can – and must – be eliminated.”

Australia, according to Trimmer, trails the rest of the western world in taking concerted and consistent action, through prescriptive legislation or policy, to address the issue.

“Many overseas jurisdictions, most recently the EU, have already mandated the implementation and use of safety engineered needles and other sharps in medical workplaces,” she said.

“Guidelines, awareness and education campaigns and other non-legislative initiatives alone have generally proven ineffective in preventing needlestick injuries to healthcare employees.”

Estimated costs for public hospitals to provide education and equipment is $50 million over three years, said ANF federal secretary Ged Kearney.

“Police wear bullet proof vests, fire fighters are given fire-adverse clothing so why shouldn’t nurses be protected from the risks associated with their work? Just like police and fire-fighters nurses are dedicated to saving lives but this should not be at high risk to themselves,” Kearney said.
“We are calling on federal and state governments to introduce consistent rules to prevent needlestick injuries in Australia and fund the introduction of needle-less access devices.”

The Coalition to Prevent Needlestick and Sharps Injuries in the Healthcare Workplace are calling for the mandatory use of safety engineered devices, education of healthcare workers and mandatory reporting of injuries.

“The provision of a safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right of every employee in Australia. Let’s not forget that safety for healthcare employees is as important as patient safety,” said Trimmer.

The coalition partners are:
* Australian Infection Control Association
* Australian Nursing Federation
* Associate Prof Cathryn Murphy (as an independent expert)
* Medical Technology Association of Australia
* Royal College of Nursing, Australia
* Royal College of Pathologists Australasia

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