Poor Staffing Increases Nurses' Risks of Needlestick Injuries

Needlestick injuries in hospital nurses increase dramatically when staffing levels are low, University of Pennsylvania researchers conclude in the June 2002 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

The study is one of the first linking on-the-job injuries for hospital nurses with heavier workloads. Injuries with used needles and other sharps put health care workers at risk for serious bloodborne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

The study, conducted in 22 U.S. hospitals, all with reputations for excellence, found that poor working conditions and high workloads were associated with 50 percent to 200 percent increases in needlestick injuries and "near-misses."

Hospital cost-cutting may have a double-edged effect on injuries. "Nurses potentially unfamiliar with safe use of sharps were often forced to become proficient while their workloads were increasing in other ways," said Sean Clarke, Ph.D., RN, associate director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, which conducted the survey of 2,278 nurses. "Nurses in our study who took on routine blood draws or intravenous insertions as a new task in the previous year were almost twice as likely to sustain injuries."

The federal Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000 mandates hospitals to provide their workers with specially-manufactured safer devices for injections, drawing blood samples and inserting intravenous lines. The journal article is the first research study to examine the effectiveness of these devices across a large group of hospitals with data collected without industry sponsorship. The Penn researchers found that the use of safety equipment decreased needlesticks and near misses by 20 percent to 30 percent.

"The study findings confirm that newer medical devices reduce nurses risks for needlesticks, but also suggest that working conditions are a very important element in ensuring safety," said Clarke.

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