Staying Sharp

5 Tips for the Safe Handling of Sharps and Bloodborne Pathogens

The statistics on sharps and bloodborne pathogens in healthcare settings are scary:

  • 385,000 injuries—or 1,000 per day—from contaminated needles and other sharps devices occur in the United States annually among hospital-based healthcare personnel.
  • Approximately three million healthcare workers worldwide are exposed to bloodborne viruses each year.
  • 8,000-10,000 people die in the United States annually from bloodborne pathogens.
  • An estimated one-third of nurses believe sharps injuries and bloodborne pathogens present a significant risk in their work environment.
  • 13% of nurses have sustained at least one sharps injury within the last five years.
  • 71.2% of bloodborne pathogen exposure incidents involve less experienced workers.

Perhaps scarier still is that sharps and bloodborne pathogen incidents continue to rise in many healthcare facilities. The good news? The right environmental services (EVS) partner can help reduce these incidents while helping healthcare facilities save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

A Major Source of HAIs

As the statistics above indicate, sharps and bloodborne pathogens are both a significant concern for healthcare institutions in their own right. However, bloodborne pathogens, and in rarer cases, sharps, can also cause healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

The CDC estimates that 5 percent of all hospital admissions result in a HAI, culminating in approximately 722,000 infections and 75,000 deaths annually. Moreover, Medicare and Medicaid funding is tied directly to the number of HAIs reported at a facility. Added to this is the expense of workers’ compensation claims, healthcare workers’ absences, and patient and employee lawsuits. The CDC estimates HAIs to cost healthcare facilities $28 to $33 billion in excess costs.

5 Steps to Safety

A major opportunity for healthcare facilities looking to protect their workers from sharps injuries and bloodborne pathogen exposure, mishandling, and disposal in improper containers is often overlooked, according to Luis Ramirez, president of Shine Facility Services, a leading provider of commercial cleaning services for healthcare facilities.

“The right EVS partner can significantly lessen the chance of sharps and bloodborne pathogen exposure and accidents, thereby reducing the number of HAIs,” says Ramirez. “The best EVS teams are thoroughly trained in the handling of these medical materials. They also offer training in these areas for nurses, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare workers—including doctors—as part of their EVS commitment to maintain a clean, healthy, and safe environment for healthcare facility workers, patients, and visitors.”

The five steps below are the minimum Ramirez believes an EVS partner should be providing.

Start right.
 To improve the handling of sharps and biohazardous material, a facility must have a starting point. “We suggest customers let us help them monitor their current practices, including material handling and landfill tonnage and costs,” Ramirez says. “Sometimes we find improvements can be made by something as easy as moving the red bin used for biohazardous waste closer to the point of use or the ‘regular’ trash bin farther away to eliminate potential misclassification. It can also help identify wasteful practices, such as exchanging red bins based on a schedule versus when they are full.”

Set goals
. “This step is often overlooked but can greatly enhance buy-in from team members, especially in medical facilities where many who enter the field are goal-driven by nature,” Ramirez says. He suggests the goals can be as simple as decreasing the current number of sharp injuries, bloodborne pathogen exposure incidents by “X.” As for reducing landfill amounts, “This should only be done if the first step has been thoroughly performed and there is a solid understanding of how much is currently erroneously being sent to landfills, so that waste that needs to go to landfills is not overlooked just to reach a goal,” he warns.

Create a program
. Like most, if not all, new plans, Ramirez says expecting team members to adhere to proper medical waste handling practices requires developing a program that includes input from all stakeholders. “This is where the right EVS provider can shine, ensuring the plan meets all compliance regulations, follows best practices, and meets all the various teams’ needs,” he says.

Educate and train.
 Proper medical waste handling and disposal into appropriate containers can require increased interdepartmental awareness, education, and training to ensure the “how” and “why” are clearly understood. This is another area where contracting with the right EVS provider can make a huge difference. “At a minimum, EVS technicians should receive classroom, simulated, and real-life training to ensure a clear understanding of sharps and the vast array of bloodborne pathogens in a healthcare setting, Ramirez says. “This must be followed by a thorough training of best practices for its safe handling in accordance with state and federal laws. The best providers also offer this same in-depth training for other healthcare workers on site as needed.”

Monitor and record
. “Data is king and nowhere more so than in the healthcare sector,” Ramirez says. “Ensuring progress mandates a systematic, data-driven method for monitoring results. It requires tracking everything from red bag and sharp container purchases to reported injuries or exposure incidences to waste disposal fees—and lots in between. The tracking should be done by facility, department, and area to showcase improvement and discover where additional education and training may be needed to reach the desired results.”

Ramirez is confident: “Making healthcare facilities healthier, safer, and kinder to the environment while operating with fiscal responsibility takes teamwork. The right EVS provider can lead the charge.”

EVS Provider With Medical Waste Handling Experience

Is your EVS provider helping keep your healthcare facility workers, occupants, and visitors safe from sharps and biohazardous waste? If you are unsure, or they skipped a step above, we invite you to experience the Shine difference. Bbrowse our website or contact us for more information.

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