New Report Highlights Health Workers' 2015 Exposures

A greater proportion of blood and body fluid splashes and splatters are occurring in patient and exam rooms than in years past, and almost two-thirds of them involved workers' eyes -- a significant concern because fewer than 7 percent of the workers involved with those exposures reported they were wearing eye protection, it reported.

A Houston organization named the International Safety Center released EPINet U.S. hospital surveillance data from 2015 last week. EPINet® (the Exposure Prevention Information Network) gives health care facilities with a standardized system for tracking occupational exposures of employees; the center also announced a new consensus statement and call to action as it stressed the importance of addressing the high rate of exposures and illnesses experienced by health workers.

The EPINet surveillance system includes employee incident reports on needlestick and sharp object injuries and also exposure to blood and body fluids. Compared to 2014, in 2015 participating hospitals reported a marked increase in injuries from sharps and needlesticks to training physicians (residents and interns) and an overall increase in injuries sustained in the operating room. The center also reported there was an unexpected drop in the use of safety-engineered medical devices at the participating hospitals.

A greater proportion of blood and body fluid splashes and splatters are occurring in patient and exam rooms than in years past, and almost two-thirds of them involved workers' eyes -- a significant concern because fewer than 7 percent of the workers involved with those exposures reported they were wearing eye protection, it reported.

"While the 2015 EPINet data suggest that pathogen exposure risks to health care workers are on the rise, they also indicate that workers are increasingly aware that these exposures are preventable," said Ginger Parker, the center's chief information officer and deputy director. In that vein, in 2014, only about 30 percent of injured or exposed health workers said they felt the injury could have been prevented by engineering controls or other technologies or by changes in administrative work practices, but in 2015, 48.7 percent of workers reporting sharps injuries and 68.6 percent exposed to blood and body fluid splashes indicated they thought their exposures were preventable.

"These EPINet results should be a wake-up call to the many health care institutions concerned about worker and patient safety. The data show rising exposures to sharps and body fluids that can transmit pathogens to healthcare workers, potentially endangering them, their patients, and their families," said Dr. Amber Mitchell, president and executive director of the center. "The growing prevalence of fluid-borne infectious organisms affecting the general public, such as hepatitis C and emerging infectious diseases like Zika, highlights the importance of protecting workers from the unanticipated exposures they encounter while providing routine care. The good news is that workers are demonstrating a high degree of awareness of the value of protective products and workplace measures and are looking to management to make the changes necessary to help them achieve a safer working environment."

The consensus statement and call to action was formulated by representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, Association of Federal Government Employees, Healthcare Surfaces Summit, and Association for the Healthcare Environment and was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Vestagen Protective Technologies, Inc.

For more information about the center, visit internationalsafetycenter.org/.

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