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Needle stick or sharps injury


What is a needlestick or sharps injury?

Needle stick or sharps injury is the term used to describe an accident where a person’s skin is accidentally punctured by a hypodermic needle or sharp medical device such as a scalpel.

People at increased risk of needlestick or sharps injuries include;

  • nurses
  • doctors
  • surgeons
  • dentists
  • dental nurses
  • phlebotomists
  • hygienists
  • laboratory technicians
  • the police
  • prison and probation services
  • customs and excise
  • social workers
  • funeral workers
  • piercers and tattooists
  • building and demolition workers

There are two main types of needle stick injury:

Minor injury

If test results show that no serious disease or infection has been transmitted, it is classified as a minor injury.

Serious Injury

This is where you contract a severe or life threatening disease or illness, and may qualify for a higher level of compensation.

The three main viruses that people suffering a Needlestick injury or sharps injury are at risk of developing are Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

There is also a small risk of other infections being transmitted via contaminated blood such as Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that is part of the herpes family of viruses. Symptoms are similar to flu or glandular fever, and includes a high temperature (fever), sore throat and swollen glands.

Most cases of glandular fever are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), one of the most common viruses to affect humans. Common symptoms of glandular fever include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
  • sore throat
  • swollen nodes (glands) in the neck
  • extreme tiredness

If you injure yourself with a used needle at work, report the incident to your supervisor or manager immediately. There may be procedures in place you need to follow.


The Law

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
The overarching health and safety law which places general responsibilities on employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. The act requires employers to provide a safe working environment in relation to sharps injuries, together with safe equipment, training, information and instructions on safe systems of work.

The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013
These regulations build on the requirements of existing regulations including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
These Regulations require your employer to assess the risk of exposure to biological hazards including blood-borne viruses and put measures in place to eliminate exposure to such hazards. Where it is not reasonably practicable to do so, employers need to prevent the exposure through using safety-engineered devices, designing safe systems of work and providing protective equipment. Information and training must be provided to all workers exposed to blood-borne viruses. Health surveillance in the form of follow-up blood tests is required where there has been a significant exposure to blood borne diseases.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Requires Employers to assess the risk of sharps injuries from work procedures and activities. Employers must provide information and training on the risks of sharps injuries and what measures employees should take to reduce injury risk. Instruction and information on measures to be taken in the event of an injury should be provided.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
Regulates the selection of suitable equipment for example sharps bins and instructions and information on how to use them safely.

Reporting of Diseases Injuries and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
The Regulations require employers to report known exposures to blood-borne viruses following a sharps injury.  Cases where a worker develops a blood-borne virus as a result of a sharps injury or other occupational exposure need to be reported retrospectively if the employer is aware of them.

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992
Regulates the selection of suitable gloves, aprons and goggles where the risk of exposure to blood-borne viruses cannot be eliminated or reduced effectively through other measures.

Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
Employers must provide first aid treatment following a sharps injury, including out-of-hours support.

Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977
These regulations require the employer to consult with safety reps on choice of equipment, such as safety engineered devises and gloves. Employers must also allow safety reps paid time off to inspect sharps injury reports, and work premises for safe working practices and environment in order to prevent sharps injuries.


What to do

Not only do you go through the trauma of the sharp object piercing your skin, you also have to worry that you may have contracted a blood-borne virus (BBV). If you have suffered a needle stick injury or sharps injury at work you may be entitled to compensation. You will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. Your right to sick pay should be in your employment contract or your terms and conditions of employment.

Do not accept compensation from an insurance company acting for your employer without taking legal advice. You may find that you have settled for less than you are actually entitled to. You will need to prove that your injury, occupational illness or disease was caused by the negligence of your employer.

[ see Accident at work, How to win your personal injury claim]


Personal Injury Pre-Action Protocol

You start your claim using the Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury (Employers’ Liability and Public Liability) Claims. You must;

  • Identify that there is a person, company or organisation to make the claim against.
  • Show that the person, company or organisation owed you a duty of care to avoid your accident and injury, and could have taken steps to avoid the situation.
  • Prove that your injury was caused by the failure of the responsible person or organisation to take reasonable steps to avoid causing your accident or injury.

[ see Accident at work, How to win your personal injury claim]


Updated:18/02/2020

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