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Occupational health nurse adviser Diane Romano-Woodward gives an overview of the legislation and best practice surrounding the use of sharps in occupational health practice.
Within OH practice, sharps are used for many reasons. Vaccinations are given as a control measure against the risk of infectious diseases - whether for travel, for those who may be exposed to body fluids as part of their work or because their work predisposes them to a particular infections, as in the case of welders and pneumococcal diseases (Romano-Woodward, 2011; Department of Health (DH), 2012).
Flu vaccination may be offered to healthy individuals in an attempt to reduce sickness absence or to protect others who are vulnerable (Health Protection Agency (HPA), 2012). Lancet-type devices may be used for cholesterol determination as part of a health promotion initiative. Health surveillance may involve venepuncture to obtain blood for measurement of levels of lead, cadmium, polychlorinated biphenyls or bromide levels to measure methyl bromide exposure.
Biological-effect monitoring includes the measurement of early biological effects caused by the absorption of a chemical - such as plasma and erythrocyte cholinesterase activity - in those working with organophosphorus pesticides (Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 1997).
Venepuncture is undertaken to demonstrate seroconversion after vaccination or to test for blood-borne viruses following body-fluids accidents (DH, 2010).
It is important that the procedures undertaken consider the safety of both the patient or client and the healthcare worker. Ensuring appropriate hand washing and the use of hand rubs, gels or wipes, as well as cleaning the injection site before breaching the skin, contribute to the patient's safety. The safe use of sharps and their disposal is essential for the protection of healthcare workers and others involved in waste disposal.
Employers and employees have obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This legislation covers the way people undertake their business, including a duty not to do anything that would put others at risk. As part of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, risk assessments have to be undertaken to ensure effective pla