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Workplace Hazards for Health Workers: Needlestick Accidents

Posted Scott B. Cooper on Sep 10, 2013 in Workers' Compensation

Whether in a hospital, laboratory, clinic, or even visiting patients at home, medical workers face daily exposure to frightful diseases with confidence and aplomb.

But when safety procedures fail to prevent possible contamination, the results can be terrifying.

And that’s the precise nature of the problem known as needlestick injuries—cuts and puncture wounds through the skin due to mishandling of surgical instruments and needles. In addition to hypodermic syringes, these wounds can be caused by:

  • Scalpels, surgical scissors and other tools
  • Intravenous catheters
  • Blood collection devices, including butterfly syringes
  • Intravenous infusion equipment
  • Broken glass

Although medical facilities place a high priority on safely handling “sharps,” as these items are informally called, U.S. health care workers report almost 400,000 job-related percutaneous injuries—wounds that puncture the skineach year.

Yes, a needlestick can be fatal

It’s rare that any of these wounds does significant physical damage. Instead, the greatest risk is that the sharp object will transmit infection to the worker. Even a small amount of blood or other contaminated material can cause a grave infection.

Health care workers fear that a needlestick injury at work could involve agents such as:

  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The constant use of powerful antibiotics in medical facilities allows drug-resistant organisms to flourish. Puncture wounds can deposit MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococcus), Clostridium difficile, and other aggressive bacteria directly into a nurse’s bloodstream.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
  • Hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both of these viral infections damage the liver and may eventually cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • Various other dangerous organisms. Dozens of other diseases have been transmitted by a needlestick accident, including malaria, syphilis, herpes, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The proper response to a hospital or clinic needlestick injury

If you are a medical worker who has been injured by a cut or puncture wound on the job, your first step should be to alert your supervisor and your employer’s accident response team of the incident.

Even if you have been partly responsible for this accident, you will be protected by workers’ compensation coverage in Pennsylvania. That means that follow-up testing to determine whether the sharp item that wounded you was contaminated and to monitor your health over the following weeks will be provided at no charge to you. If you do suffer complications from the needlestick injury, your workers’ compensation benefits will cover all related medical expenses and a portion of any lost wages.

Our workers’ compensation attorneys in Harrisburg represent health care workers in Dauphin County and surrounding communities who have been exposed to infectious disease at work. If you have been injured by clinic or hospital equipment, you may have a valid third-party claim against a medical equipment manufacturer in addition to your Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits. Call Schmidt Kramer today at 717.888.8888 or 888.476.0807 to have your questions answered or to order a FREE copy of our informative brochure, Who Pays The Bills When You Are Injured At Work?