The prevalence of sharps injuries in the operating room seems to be -- at best -- not
changing, and it may be increasing.
by Mike Schmidt
Nothing more accurately and succinctly defines the issue of sharps safety than the
fact which states that there has been no
decrease in the injury rate in surgical set-
tings since the passage of the Needlestick
Prevention Act of 2000.
While reliable and true statistics on
the topic are hard to come by because of
unreported and unrecorded injuries, Dr.
Ramon Berguer, M.D., General Surgeon,
at Martinez, Calif.-based Contra Costa
Regional Medical Center cites this statistic
to indicate how solving the problem of
sharps injuries in the operating room is
very much a work in progress.
“The prevalence in the OR seems to
be – at best – not changing, and it may be
increasing somewhat,” he says.
A 2011 article entitled “AORN Guidance
Statement: Sharps Injury Prevention in
the Perioperative Setting” states that some-
where between seven and 15 percent of all
surgical procedures result in injury from
sharp devices or instruments.
“The typical busy, practicing surgeon
would probably sustain one or two needle-
sticks or cuts per year,” says Berguer, who
notes that this figure is based on his own
Causes Of Injury
According to Berguer, the most com-
mon cause of sharps injury in the OR
comes from use of a suture needle. That
accounts for roughly 50 to 60 percent of the
injuries. Following that, about 15 to 20 percent
of the injuries come from scalpel blades. The
remaining are mostly from hypodermic needles,
which are now more commonly used because of
the use of local anesthesia before and after the
Furthermore, the aforementioned article
says anywhere from six to 16 percent of these
injuries occur during hand-to-hand passing of
instruments, sharps and hollow bore needles.
According to information from the University
of Virginia’s Exposure Prevention Information
Network, the mechanism for injury for all
devices varies significantly based on role. Out of
a total of 7,272 injuries that occurred at 87 U.S.
hospitals between 1993 and 2004, about 70
percent of injuries to surgeons occurred during
the device’s use. Just less than 70 percent of
those sustained by residents occurred during
use. For nurses and OR technicians, the high-
est risk of injury came while passing the device
or between steps. However, that risk was only
in this issue
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