“But any sharp that is present is a risk the
The statistics indicate sharps injuries are
entire time,” says Berguer, adding that inju-
ries can happen at any point along the chain
of use, even during and after disposal.
happening as often now as they did at the
turn of the century. Unfortunately, this also
suggests OR surgeons, OR technicians, resi-
dents, and nurses continue to put themselves
in harm’s way – despite the potential for
some serious ramifications.
“The consequences are costly for both
the healthcare worker and the facility once
a sharps injury is reported,” says Matthew
Walker, President and COO, Post Medical, a
provider of sharps containers for sharps dis-
posal and medical waste. “A series of costly
lab tests will need to be performed to deter-
mine whether the injured worker is infected
with hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C
virus (HCV), or HIV. While these are the
three most common, there are up to 20 other
pathogens that can be transmitted.”
According to Berguer, hepatitis C is the
most prevalent blood borne illness that can
be acquired by healthcare workers through
sharps injuries, followed by HIV.
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There are some common misconceptions
about sharps safety that may prevent the
injury rate at many facilities from improv-
ing. One is that surgeons and OR staff aren’t
aware of injury rates, even those in their own
institutions, due to factors such as privacy
and lack of publication.
Another common, yet flawed, thought that
is quite prevalent
nurses, and OR staff
is that these types of
injuries are just an
uct of the job. Even
worse, many think
there is not much to
be done to alleviate
There is also a
common belief that
suggests those devic-
es or work practices
that are used to miti-
gate the problem of
sharps safety prevent
a surgery from being
done effectively – or
even at all.
“These all lead
to the idea that you
can’t really do much
about it, and so you
just have to accept
it,” says Berguer.
According to Walker, glove barrier failure
is the most common occurrence in the peri-
operative setting. However, he notes that
evidence suggests that double gloving can
reduce the occurrence of glove barrier breach
by as much as 87 percent. Other measures,
he states, include not placing sharps in over-
filled sharps containers, cutting or suturing
away instead of toward the surgeon’s hands
or assistant’s hands, as well as passing sharps
instruments in a tray.
Berguer cites a few additional measures,
such as avoiding the use of sharps instru-
ments unless necessary. He also adds that all
fascial closures should be performed with
blunt tip or safety needles, and that safety-
engineered devices like retractable needles
are also effective tools for avoiding sharps
injuries in the OR.
However, these viable methods for improv-
“One is of course cost, as sharps safety devic-
ing safety and limiting injury risk are not
being adopted by workers in many operating
rooms across the country.
Walker points to two specific factors that
hold some healthcare workers back from
embracing these safety tools and behaviors.
es, extra gloves, and instrument trays add addi-
tional dollars to each procedure,” he says. “The
second, in my opinion, is habit. Surgeons are
creatures of habit and can be steadfast in their
procedure and technique. Nurses and other
staff are also not immune to this.”
Berguer states that he believes lack of
awareness regarding the problem and its
magnitude are also contributing factors.
However, he adds that many surgeons rec-
ognize the problem of sharps injuries in the
operating room and are working diligently to
“One thing I recommend is that this
becomes essentially an OSHA employee
health issue,” he continues. “It needs to
become a hospital policy. The data is there
to support having such a policy. Once it is a
policy, then it becomes a question of educa-
tion and enforcement from the policy—not