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When safety precautions are faithfully followed, sharps injuries are lower, study shows

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Arlington, VA — Hospital units that consistently follow standard safety precautions experience nearly 40% fewer needlesticks and other sharps injuries than other units, a new study has found.

According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, around 385,000 sharps injuries – involving syringe needles, scalpel blades and other sharp objects that come into contact with body fluids – occur annually among the 5.6 million health care workers in the United States.

Researchers surveyed 452 U.S.-based registered nurses across 43 hospital units and collected observational adherence data on nearly 5,300 standard precautions – including safe use and disposal of sharps and appropriate personal protective equipment.

The units observed to have consistent commitment to safety precautions had 38% fewer needlesticks and sharps injuries than those that didn’t. Additionally, the researchers found that a group of variables – including observed standard precaution adherence, level of nurse staffing, hospital ownership and teaching status – reliably predicted all staff sharps and needle injuries.

Overall adherence to standard precautions was highest among nurses, at 69.1%, followed by other providers (62.1%) and physicians (58%). APIC says adherence to standard precautions in hospitals happens less than half of the time.

“Despite the safety benefits associated with standard precautions, generating consistent adherence in the health care setting has been notoriously challenging, for reasons that are not completely clear,” lead study author Amanda Hessels, an assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Nursing, said in an APIC press release. “Our study findings should help to advance the state of the science in patient and occupational health and safety.”

The study was published online in the American Journal of Infection Control.

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