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Physicians report most sharps injuries among health care workers, data shows

male doctor
Photo: kupicoo/iStockphoto

League City, TX — Physicians have surpassed nurses as the occupational group with the highest percentage of reported sharps injuries, recent data from the International Safety Center shows.

Researchers analyzed 2016 surveillance data from hospitals that voluntarily participate in ISC’s Exposure Prevention Information Network, a service that tracks occupational exposures in the health care industry. They found that 34.2 percent of workers who reported sharps injuries were physicians, compared with 33.4 percent who were nurses. In 2015, nurses comprised 37.8 percent of such injuries, compared with 29.2 percent for physicians.

According to ISC, 2016 marked the first time that physicians experienced the highest percentage of sharps injuries since EPINet launched in the mid-1980s. NIOSH defines a sharps injury as “a penetrating stab wound from a needle, scalpel, or other sharp object that may result in exposure to blood or other body fluids.”

Other findings:

  • The ratio of sharps injuries per average daily census for all workers increased to 33.7 per 100 in 2016 from 31.7 in 2015.
  • The ratio of blood and body fluid exposures per average daily census for all workers increased to 12.9 per 100 in 2016 from 11.4 in 2015. About half of these exposures occurred in patient or exam rooms, while nearly 7 in 10 involved exposure to the eyes.

Researchers associated the rise in sharps injuries with three primary causes: failure to use a safer medical device; failure to activate safety mechanisms when devices with sharps injury protections are used; and unsafe work practices during multi-step processes, such as passing instruments by hand during surgery.

Only 30.2 percent of workers who suffered sharps injuries reported using a device equipped with a safety mechanism, with a majority failing to activate the safety feature.

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