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Needles, sharp surgical objects pose serious injury risk to medical professionals

At first blush, you may not think that operating rooms and construction sites, warehouses or other industrial settings have much in common. While this is obviously true from a functional perspective, these work sites actually all do share a common thread: an elevated risk of work injuries.

If you don't think of an operating room as an inherently dangerous environment for medical professionals, consider all the intricate equipment and potentially dangerous instruments used. In fact, a recently released report from the University of Michigan Health System revealed that there are almost 400,000 injuries from needles and sharp surgical objects in the U.S. every year, and that about 25 percent of these injuries are sustained by surgeons.

These sharps injuries are especially dangerous not just because of the initial physical harm they cause, but because of the elevated infection risk they carry. In particular, those stuck with used surgical devices face the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and other serious blood-borne illnesses.

For employers in the healthcare industry, the cost of sharps injuries can be rather substantial. In general, a sharp injury involving a patient with no documented history of blood-borne illnesses costs an average of $375, including testing, follow-up and preventative treatment (i.e., antiviral medications). If the patient does have a documented history of a blood-borne illness, the average cost is closer to $2,500.

An additional cost to employers may come in the form of psychological injuries, as healthcare workers and their families are forced to wait for several weeks or even months before learning whether they are free from infection.

Fortunately, the researchers in the aforementioned study indicated that there are steps that employers and medical professionals can take to reduce sharps accidents, including using engineered safety devices/non-sharp alternatives, implementing specific safety procedures for passing sharps and even mandating the use of a double layer of gloves.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


EHS Today, "Sticking point: Surgeons face injury risk from needles, sharp objects," Laura Walter, April 5, 2013

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