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Data shows health care workers not wearing PPE despite rise in sharps injuries, body fluid exposures

Close up of nurse with mask
Photo: Feverpitched/iStockphoto

Houston – Despite an increase in sharps injuries and exposure to blood and bodily fluids, many health care workers are not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, recent data from the International Safety Center shows.

Researchers analyzed 2015 surveillance data from hospitals that participate voluntarily in ISC’s Exposure Prevention Information Network – a system that tracks occupational exposures among health care workers. They found that fewer than 7 percent of workers exposed to blood and bodily fluid splashes reported using eye protection, although about two-thirds of the workers’ eyes were splashed.

In 2015, 48.7 percent of workers who reported sharps injuries – defined by NIOSH as “a penetrating stab wound from a needle, scalpel, or other sharp object that may result in exposure to blood or other body fluids” – as well as 68.6 percent of those exposed to fluids said they believe those exposures were preventable, compared with about 30 percent for both groups in 2014.

“These EPINet results should be a wake-up call to the many health care institutions concerned about worker and patient safety,” ISC President and Executive Director Amber Mitchell said in a July 27 press release. “The data show rising exposures to sharps and body fluids that can transmit pathogens to health care workers, potentially endangering them, their patients and their families.”

Responding to a previous survey of data from 2010 to 2014 that found personal protective equipment use and compliance was at a decade low, ISC issued a consensus statement and call to action to increase awareness and urgency in addressing the problem. ISC found that about 70 percent of fluid splashes were contaminated with blood, yet only 17 percent of health care workers wore protective gowns, while more than 40 percent were clad in regular clothes or non-protective scrubs. More than 80 percent of exposures involved unprotected skin.

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