Improper Sharps Disposal: A Costly Accident Waiting to Happen

Sharps disposal poses a conundrum for business owners. Is it better to have a sharps disposal unit or not? Before you answer this question, imagine what could happen if a customer or a member of your staff become injured because of improper disposal of sharps waste. Your business could be held liable for that injury, especially when he or she becomes infected with a blood-borne disease like Hepatitis B or C, and even worse, HIV.

Before we dig further into sharps disposal, let’s first define what “sharps” is. This medical term is coined for devices that have sharp points or edges, capable of puncturing or cutting the skin. “Sharps” are not limited to needles only. They also include syringes, lancets, auto-injectors, infusion sets and connection needles/sets.

A syringe is a device used in injecting medication into or withdrawing fluids from the body.

The lancet is a “fingerstick” or finger prick device usually used in treating diabetes. Its short, two-edged blade is used in blood sample collection and testing.

image from www.whatayear.org

Autoinjectors–these include epinephrine and insulin pens–are like syringes, except they are already pre-filled with medication that can be self-injected into the body.

An infusion set is a tubing system with a needle at one end, which is used to deliver drugs into the body. This is normally used in a hospital setting.

Connection needles/sets, on the other hand,  are needles connected to a tube transferring fluids in and out of the body. Unlike the infusion set, it is usually used for patients who are on home hemodialysis.

Sharps may be used outside of the health care setting especially when people need to manage medical conditions like diabetes and anaphylaxis, to name a few. The only problem is that when they use these sharps, a proper sharps disposal unit isn’t always available. So when they throw sharps waste in together with the standard waste, the risk of injury and infection arises. Not only will staff and customers be at direct risk of both, but sharps waste can also be subject to reuse and misuse–whether intentional or not.

What If…

The worst case scenario happens and you accidentally get struck by a used needle?

Health workers have the highest risk of getting injured by used needles as they are surrounded by sharps in their line of work. However, ordinary people are also at risk when others carelessly dispose of their sharps together with standard waste. If you do get hurt by accident, don’t panic and don’t suck it. Here are some first aid steps you can apply to yourself.

Hold your injury under running water. It’s okay to let it bleed out a little. Wash the affected area with lots of soap and water. Avoid scrubbing your wound while washing. After you dry your injury, use waterproof plaster to cover it. You can also use waterproof dressing if you don’t have plaster. As a safety precaution, go to the local hospital to have your wound checked. Or if you have a personal physician, seek medical advice on other steps you can do.

Safe sharps disposal is a social responsibility

Instead of what ifs, business owners should think about how to remove the risk of used sharps injury in their establishments. Having sharps containers is one way to minimize this hazard and ensure a safe environment, not only for your patrons but also for your staff.

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