OSHA Announces Outreach on Needlestick Prevention

OSHA is reaching out to educate employers, health care workers and the general public on the agency's revision to the bloodborne pathogens standard.

The revision is aimed at helping to reduce needlestick injuries among healthcare workers and others who work with medical sharps.

"Prevention is the best medicine," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "The more emphasis we place up front on education and prevention, the better able we are to protect workers. By revising this standard, OSHA is giving employers a stronger tool to help reduce serious injuries and illnesses caused by needles and sharps."

OSHA's education effort includes a collection of written materials designed to explain specific aspects of the standard. Materials are available on OSHA's Web site.

During the outreach period, OSHA will not enforce the new provisions of the standard that require employers to maintain a sharps injury log and involve non-managerial employees in selecting safer medical devices.

Enforcement of these new provisions will begin on July 17, according to OSHA.

Meanwhile, enforcement will continue for requirements that employers select safer needle devices as they become available.

"Safe needles protect workers from deadly injuries," said R. Davis Layne, acting OSHA administrator. "All of us want our nation's healthcare system to be as safe as possible. This rule and our accompanying education effort are a positive step in that direction."

The agency is extending its partnership efforts with other agencies, associations and labor organizations.

OSHA is also making available a presentation package through its education centers -- education and other nonprofit organizations that offer training courses for the private and public sectors.

OSHA revised the bloodborne pathogens standard as mandated by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act.

Passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law on Nov. 6, 2000, the act directed specific revisions to the standard, including clarifying the requirement for employers to select safer needle devices as they become available and involving employees in identifying and choosing the devices.

OSHA has put together a list of frequently asked questions regarding the bloodborne pathogens standard. Below are several questions and answers found on that list. For the complete list, visit OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov.

How does the "Needlestick Act" apply to OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard?

The act directed OSHA to revise its Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). OSHA published the revised standard in the Federal Register on Jan. 18, 2001; it took effect on April 18, 2001. The agency implemented a 90-day outreach and education effort for both OSHA staff and the regulated public before beginning enforcement of the new requirements. Accordingly, OSHA will not enforce the new provisions of the standard until July 17, 2001.

How does the revision affect states that operate their own federally-approved occupational safety and health programs?

States and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved state programs must adopt the revisions to the bloodborne pathogens standard, or adopt a more stringent amendment to their existing standard by Oct. 18, 2001.

Does the "Needlestick Act" apply to me?

OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, including its 2001 revisions, applies to all employer who have employees with reasonably anticipated occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material. These employers must implement the applicable requirements set forth in the standard.

Some of the new and clarified provisions in the standard apply only to healthcare activities, but some of the provisions, particularly the requirements to update the Exposure Control Plan and to keep a sharps log, will apply to non-healthcare as well as healthcare activities.

What if I've never had an employee experience a needlestick, do I still need to use safer devices?

Yes. OSHA standards are intended to be implemented as a means to prevent occupational illness and injuries. In order to most effectively avoid injuries from contaminated sharps, employees must use engineering controls, including safer medical devices.

How many non-managerial employees do I need to include in the process of choosing safer medical devices?

Small medical offices may want to seek input from all employees when making their decisions. Larger facilities are not required to request input from all exposed employees; however, the employees selected should represent the range of exposure situations encountered in the workplace (i.e., pediatrics, emergency departments). The solicitation of employees who have been involved in the input and evaluation process must be documented in the Exposure Control Plan.

Does OSHA have a list of available safer medical devices?

No. OSHA does not approve or endorse any product. It is your responsibility as an employer to determine which engineering controls are appropriate for specific hazards, based on what is appropriate to the specific medial procedures being conducted, what is feasible, and what is commercially available.

Do I have to keep a sharps injury log? Does it have to be confidential?

If, as an employer, you are required to maintain a log of occupational injuries and illnesses under 29 CFR 1904, you must also establish and maintain a sharps injury log for recording injuries from contaminated sharps. The Sharps Log must contain, at a minimum, information about the injury, the type and brand of device involved in the injury, the department or work area where the exposure occurred, and an explanation of how the incident occurred. The log must be recorded and maintained in such a manner so as to protect the confidentiality of the injured employee.

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