New sharps regulations take effect

NEW regulations requiring UK healthcare employers and contractors to have effective arrangements for the safe use and disposal of sharps have come into force this month.

Under The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations employers will be required to have clear arrangements for the safe use and disposal of sharps, including using 'safer sharps' where reasonably practicable, restricting the practice of recapping of needles and placing sharps bins close to the point of use.

The regulations also call for the provision of necessary information and training to workers, and a responsibility to investigate and take prompt action in response to work-related sharps injuries.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) introduced the new regulations in compliance with a European Directive. Martin Dilworth, an HSE policy advisor in biological hazards, said:

"Sharps injuries are a well-known risk in the healthcare sector. Medical sharps contaminated with an infected patient's blood can transmit pathogens that cause more than 20 diseases, including hepatitis B and C, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

"The new regulations are there to help minimise these risks, and we're publishing free guidance to help the healthcare industry understand its responsibilities."

Guidance for healthcare employers and employees is available from the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/healthservices/needlesticks and www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/hsis7.htm