Needlestick Law Linked to Decrease in Health Care Worker Injuries

Needlestick injury rates from 2001 to 2005 were well below pre-Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act rates, according to the study.

A federal law enacted to protect health care workers from being stuck by needles has reduced the number of such injuries, decreasing the possibility for exposure to bloodborne diseases, according to research conducted by the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act (NSPA) requires employers to provide safety-engineered devices to employees who are at risk for exposure to bloodborne pathogens and to let frontline workers have a say in selecting these devices.

NSPA also mandated revisions to OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard, requiring employers to provide safer devices for at-risk employees, review exposure-control plans annually, and maintain logs of all injuries by sharp items. It also gave frontline workers a greater role in selecting appropriate safety devices.

To determine whether the NSPA has had an effect on the rate of needlestick injuries among hospital employees, researchers used a multihospital sharps-injury database maintained by the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia. Since 1993, a group of U.S. hospitals voluntarily contributed sharps-injury surveillance data. Researchers selected the period from 1995 through 2005, which included 23,908 injuries that occurred in 85 hospitals in 10 states. They then calculated the annual rates of injuries per 100 full-time hospital employees, as reported by the American Hospital Association.

There was a trend toward increasing rates of injuries before the legislation was enacted, which was followed by a drop of about 38 percent in 2001 when the NSPA took effect. Subsequent injury rates through 2005 remained well below pre-NSPA rates, according to the study.

While the researchers noted that other factors might have contributed to the decrease, UVA’s Elayne Kornblatt Phillips, BSN, MPH, Ph.D., called the effect of the NSPA “very significant.”

“Health care workers are precious resources in this country and around the world,” Phillips said. “We keep reading in the news about the shortage of health care workers, especially nurses and physicians, and those are the two groups that are most often injured by sharp devices.”

The findings appear in a letter in the Feb. 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Phillips noted that the UVA findings underscore the importance of legislation that is well-crafted and well-enforced. “Even though there were OSHA regulations that intended to do the same thing, and devices on the market to do the same thing, we really didn’t see [the decrease] until the legislation was passed,” she said.

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