The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act
The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, “orders healthcare facilities to use needleless systems when possible and to otherwise use only safety-engineered sharps devices.” Penalties for non-compliance with this law can result in fines of up to $70,000 per occurrence. Although the Needlestick Prevention Act has been heralded as a bane for needle and syringe manufacturers overall—as it has dramatically cut down on the number of needles and syringes used by healthcare workers overall—the pervasive threat of needlestick illness and injury has been such a tragic healthcare threat that many in the healthcare profession saw the legislation as necessary to ensure the safety of healthcare workers. According to the Service Employees International Union:
- From 600,000 to 1 million healthcare workers are accidentally stuck by needles each year
- More than 1,000 people annually contract a serious infection from needlestick injuries.
In addition to mandating the use of safer devices for the withdrawal and removal of bodily fluids, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act also call for comprehensive training programs aimed at raising worker awareness regarding the transmission of bloodborne pathogens. Further, the new legislation calls for healthcare facilities with more than 11 employees to keep records regarding sharps injuries that occur in the workplace. “The long must be maintained in a way to ensure employee privacy and must contain, at minimum: type and brand of device involved in the incident, if known; location of the incident; and description of the incident.” Review of these records will help OSHA identify areas of concern that need to be addressed when examining the efficacy of the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act in the future.
While the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act improves worker safety when it comes to needles, the original Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, which was passed in 1991, has a number of key mandates that serve as the foundation for ensuring worker safety in the healthcare profession. For instance, under the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard of 1991, it is required that all employees who could “reasonably” be exposed to Hepatitis B virus, be vaccinated against this pathogen at the employer’s expense. “The OSHA bloodborne disease standard mandates that all healthcare employers offer Hepatitis B vaccine free of charge to employees who ‘reasonably’ anticipate exposure to blood and other infectious materials.” This measure helps to ensure that even when healthcare workers are exposed to the pathogen their health will be protected to some degree.