Protecting healthcare workers from needlestick injuries – The effect of legislation

Needlestick injuries (NSI) or injuries caused by medical sharps are an ever-present part of a healthcare worker’s professional environment. In Europe, it is estimated that over 1 million needlestick injuries occur annually.1 Needlestick injures are of great concern as they can result in healthcare workers getting infected by blood-borne pathogens.

The EU Directive 2010/32/EU – Prevention of sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector2, has been promulgated to prevent NSIs and infections in healthcare workers to the extent possible. The agreement aims to protect healthcare workers from injuries caused by needles and other sharp instruments by implementing a framework agreement concluded by the European partners HOSPEEN (The European Hospital and Healthcare Employers Association) and EPSU (The European Federation of Public Services Union).2 It was required to be transposed into national law by the EU member states by 11 May 2013.

Round table meeting during the Healthcare Workers Safety Day, 13 October 2019.

To compare experiences and policies governing the protection of healthcare workers in their respective countries, senior hospital professionals from seven EU countries met at the BD Innovation and Engagement Centre in Eysins on the 3 October 2019 for a Round Table meeting on this subject. Among the topics discussed in this Round Table were specific risk assessment, the economic impact of NSIs, and the analysis of safety-engineered devices (SEDs) in the prevention of NSIs.

Healthcare worker safety across Europe – What is needed?

The delegates of the Round Table discussed the implementation of the EU Directive 2010/32/EU throughout the EU. They observed that all the EU member states had implemented the Directive with varying degrees of compliance and thoroughness. This inconsistency in the implementation across Europe was largely due to cost constraints, non-uniform reporting and follow-up of NSI incidents, inadequate education and training, or competing priorities.

Large differences are seen among EU countries in the implementation of the specific measures for preventing NSIs as required by the Directive. However, some measures like disposing of sharps in special containers and not recapping used needles seem to be widely adopted across all the EU members. The participants felt that while countries may have their own legislation, it is universally the collective responsibility of the healthcare workers to act and prevent hazardous situations from arising while using sharps and needles in their everyday work.

The assessment of risks in working practises is an important pillar of the Directive. The Directive aims to assess the overall risk of NSIs, as opposed to monitoring individual risks.  The effectiveness of such assessment also seems to vary across the EU states. Risk assessment through the collection of NSI data is important given the large human and institutional costs due to NSIs.

The delegates concluded that there was a need to collect benchmarking data on NSIs to accelerate the drive towards zero NSI. Towards this end, it is more important to create awareness and allow active observers to record relevant data, than invest in costly surveillance and monitoring mechanisms.