Less than a week after backing a similar bill in the House, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), supports bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate yesterday to protect health care workers from needlestick injuries.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chair of the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., member of the HELP committee, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the minority whip.
Introduction of the Senate bill enhances the chance that Congress will be able to send a bill to President Clinton to sign before the year comes to a close.
"The bill''s sponsors have put the lives of health care workers above partisan politics," said Andrew Stern, SEIU president. "SEIU commends the sponsors for their leadership on this issue."
SEIU members have participated in the fight for safe needles, winning legislation in 15 states.
Now they are hoping to help pass the Jeffords-Enzi and Ballenger-Owens bills to extend safeguards to health care workers in all 50 states.
"I watched five of my co-workers at San Francisco General Hospital become infected with HIV because of unsafe needles," said Lorraine Thiebaud, registered nurse and union officer for SEIU Local 790. "This bill would help prevent other health care workers from suffering like they did."
Both the House and Senate bills would strengthen OSHA''s standard on bloodborne pathogens to require greater utilization of newer, safer devices in health facilities.
They would also require the involvement of workers who provide direct patient care in determining which safer needles and sharps to use in their workplaces, and more consistent documentation of all needlestick injuries from potentially contaminated devices.
An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 needlestick injuries occur each year -- 2,000 every day.
According to SEIU, the U.S. health care system is spending between $300 million to a half a billion dollars each year on testing alone, not counting the cost of treatment, which can amount to $1 million per case.
by Virginia Sutcliffe