Use of Sharps

The improper handling of “sharps” materials creates a significant risk for the primary individual working with them, as well as secondary individuals that may be cleaning or handling the lab’s waste.  A significant number of injuries from “sharps” occur in research labs each year, many of which go unreported, and a high percentage of these injuries are avoidable.  Anyone who uses a sharp is personally responsible for its correct use and for its safe disposal.

All sharps objects, such as, but not limited to the following, must be disposed in an approved “sharps container” in order to prevent potential exposure to maintenance and building services staff.  NOTE: EHS Hazard Materials Management (HMM) provides dedicated sharps collection systems for uncapped syringe/needle assemblies.

  • Scalpel blades
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Pasteur pipettes
  • Contaminated broken glass
  • Intravenous tubing with needle attached
  • Capillary tubes

Standard Operating Procedures, Guidelines, and Manuals

The following documents may be required for your research operation, depending on what type of research you are performing, the potential hazards you and your staff will be exposed to, and the engineering controls you are implementing.  Some of these documents are in a downloadable “Word” format so that you can print them for your operation as is, or download and modify them to meet your unique needs.  When you click the link it will automatically go to the download file.

NOTE: Non-contaminated broken glass should be placed in large cardboard containers for transport to and disposal in the trash dumpsters.  Refer to the procedure Disposing of Uncontaminated Waste that May Puncture the Skin.

Health Concerns

In labs where human tissues and body fluids are manipulated, the major concerns from sharps injuries are exposures to bloodborne pathogens such as:

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which causes infectious hepatitis
  • Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative organism of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

In addition, infectious agents from humans, animals, or the environment also pose a health risk to lab personnel. Examples of these infectious agents include, but are not limited to:

  • Salmonella spp. (human pathogen found in water ways as a pollution constituent)
  • Pseudomonas spp. (occurs in natural waters)
  • Leptospira interrogans  (parasites of other species in natural waters)
  • Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene that is found in soil)
  • Clostridium tetani (tetanus that is found in soil)

 Risk of Infection after an Exposure

A needlestick injury or cut with a contaminated sharp may introduce organisms directly into the bloodstream or subcutaneous tissue.  It is more likely that a smaller number of organisms are required to cause an infection when they are introduced in this way than would be required from a splash exposure.  It is often the case that laboratory acquired infections do not manifest themselves in a typical manner.

The prevalence of HBV and HIV in the general population is low, except in certain at-risk groups, and all documented cases of transmission of HIV in the health care setting have resulted from inoculation with blood through a sharps injury, or through exposure of mucous membranes or non-intact skin to blood.

In a non-immunocompromised person, the risk of infection following a needlestick  injury depends on the virus being transmitted.  The following table shows the risk of infection after exposure to an infectious agent:

EXPOSURE TO… RISK OF INFECTION…
Hepatitis B 20% – 30%
Hepatitis C 3% – 10%
HIV 0.4%

Precautions

Everyone is responsible for taking precautions to eliminate or minimize their risk to exposure to material that may contain infectious agents. You should:

  • Take the appropriate training
  • Receive a Hepatitis B vaccination
  • Receive the tetanus vaccination
  • Safety Needle Guide

Lab directors (faculty/lab managers/supervisors) can help eliminate or minimize employee exposure to infectious agents when using sharps by including the following precautions when designing their experiments:

  • Write an Exposure Control Plan (ECP)
    NOTE: The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (MiOSHA) Bloodborne Pathogen Standard requires an ECP.
  • Institute engineering controls
    NOTE: For example, using a single-use disposable needle barrel in place of the multi-use barrels when collecting blood by venipuncture reduces the risk of contamination.  Multi-use needle barrels used with Vacutainers can become contaminated, creating a risk of infection if they are re-used.
  • Develop work practice controls