Needlestick Safety and Prevention with Lab Blood Tests

It is common knowledge that many patients struggle with feelings of anxiety when having their blood drawn. But something not many people realize is that phlebotomists, lab technicians, and other healthcare providers may also be feeling nervous while handling needles around patients, although for a very different reason.

Needles and other “sharps” (such as lancets, scalpels, scissors, razor blades, metal wires, clamps, and pins) can pose a serious safety risk to medical professionals when they come into contact with and puncture the skin. Needlestick and sharps injuries can transmit infectious diseases, particularly blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis C. 

For clinicians, phlebotomists, lab technicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who draw blood, administer vaccines, or use other sharps, knowing how to reduce needlestick risks is an important part of workplace safety.

Biohazardous Exposure Risks for Healthcare Workers 

In a CDC report of types of exposures to blood and body fluids experienced by healthcare workers, percutaneous injuries (through the skin) were the most commonly reported route of blood and body fluid exposures (82%), followed by mucous membrane (14%) and non-intact skin exposures (3%). Blood and blood products were involved in nearly 4/5 of all exposures.

In terms of the work locations where these reported exposures occurred:

  • Inpatient units: 36%
  • Operating room: 29%
  • Procedure room: 9%
  • Outpatient: 8%
  • Emergency department: 8%
  • Laboratories: 4%
  • Waste / Laundry: 1%
  • Unknown / Other: 5%

Hollow-bore needles were involved in the majority (55%) of all reported percutaneous injuries. Hypodermic needles attached to syringes were the most common type of hollow-bore needle involved in percutaneous injuries (30%). Compared to other devices, hollow-bore needles carry a higher risk of transmission of bloodborne viruses to medical workers. 

The most common intended use of hollow-bore needles involved in percutaneous injuries was blood sampling (30%), followed by injection (27%), accessing an existing intravenous line to inject medication or withdraw blood (13%), and inserting an intravenous catheter (11%).

When contaminated needles puncture the skin, they can inject hazardous fluids into the body. This can occur when an agitated patient moves suddenly, or due to another type of accident when handling the needle. Even a small amount of blood is enough to spread many diseases. 

Blood splatter is yet another risk associated with the use of needles and other sharps, and one that is not discussed or regulated as thoroughly as needlestick injuries. Blood that comes into contact with mucous membranes can easily transmit infectious diseases.

Needlestick & Sharps Safety for Blood Draws

Preventing injuries from sharps and needlesticks is the best way to protect healthcare workers from biohazard exposure. Recommended safety measures include:

  • Eliminate the use of needle devices when safe and effective alternatives are available.
  • Always use needle devices with safety features.
  • Avoid recapping or bending needles that might be contaminated.
  • Promptly dispose of used needle devices and sharps in designated containers.
  • Follow standard precautions, infection prevention, and general hygiene practices consistently.
  • Wear recommended personal protective equipment while handling needles and other sharps, as well as patient blood.

If a needlestick injury does occur, the worker should immediately wash the area with soap and water (or flush the nose, mouth, or skin with water in the event of blood splatter). Post-exposure prophylaxis often needs to begin right away, so the healthcare worker should seek medical attention immediately.

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