Safe use of needles and sharps

Sharps related injuries pose many hazards, including the risk of contracting a BBV and the stress and emotional burden that the aftermath of an injury can cause.

Bad practice cannot only result in an injury to yourself it can also be dangerous to patients and other employees. Therefore, it’s important that you understand how to use and dispose of sharps safely to minimize the risk to yourself and others.

This module will help you to understand the main bad behaviours that result in needlestick injuries and will provide you with the best practice guidelines for safe sharps usage.

Work practices that are likely to result in a sharps injury are:

  • Improper use of a sharp -Sharps should always be used according to best practice guidelines and only after appropriate training
  • Recapping a used needle -Recapping a needle is dangerous as you can easily miss the cap and puncture your skin you should never recap a needle
  • Other post use activities before disposal -This could include dismantling a sharp or when cleaning up after using one.
  • Improper disposal -You must always follow the correct procedure to dispose of a needle immediately after you have finished using it. Improper disposal of a needle is not only dangerous for the needle user: by disposing of a needle in a non-sharps bin, you increase the risk of a sharps related injury for anyone removing that refuse.

By following best practice guidelines for sharps yes, you can help to protect yourself and others from the emotional and physical burdens of receiving a sharps injury.


Best practices for sharps use

Eliminating unnecessary sharps use is the most effective way to prevent sharps related injuries and reduce the amount of sharps waste we produce.

Therefore, you should always consider if there is a way to carry out the treatment, such as orally or rectally, that can remove the need for sharps. When it is necessary for you to use a sharp it’s important that you follow your best practice guidelines to reduce the risk of injury.

To carry out your sharps procedure safely, you must:

  • Always carry out proper hand hygiene practices, including wearing gloves when necessary.
  • Dispose of all single use PPB immediately after use. One pair of gloves should be used per procedure for patient.
  • Carry out appropriate skin preparation and disinfection before administering an injection, such as water for 60–70% alcohol solution, depending on the injection.
  • Discard all used devices immediately into the correct sharps receptable in the area in which they were used. Single use syringes and needles a one unit and must be discarded together.


You must also:

  • Examine the packaging of all sharps to be used. Check that they have not been tampered with, punctured or damaged by exposure to moisture. If they have, discard them
  • Avoid recapping any sharps. If recapping a needle is unavoidable, you must use the one handed scoop method
  • Keep your sharps bin within arms reach and At eye height
  • Only sell sharps containers until they are 3/4 full. Do not overfill sharps containers. Once it is 75% full, seal it and arrange for its disposal
  • Use forceps to reposition a sharp that is sticking out of a sharps box. You should never use your hands
  • Seal all sharps containers with a tamper proof lid When they are full.
  • Immediately report any sharps related injuries or accidents. PEP treatment, given after exposure to HIV becomes ineffective after 72 hours. Therefore, it’s vital that you promptly seek medical help.


Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is a very important step in preventing the spread of microorganisms. Hand hygiene covers handwashing, anti-septic hand wash or hand rub and surgical hand antisepsis

Hand hygiene should always be carried out before:

  • Prepare injection material
  • Give injections
  • Come into direct contact with patients
  • Put on gloves. Gloves must only be put on clean, dry hands.

Hand hygiene should always be carried out after you:

  • Finish an injection session.
  • Have any direct contact with the patient
  • Remove your gloves

You must always carry out hand hygiene steps between clients. You should avoid giving injections if you are experiencing a local infection or other condition. Any small cuts should be covered with an appropriate covering.

Hand hygiene is vital. You must carry out hand hygiene procedures before and after contact with every patient.

The world health organization recommends that:

  • If your hands are visibly dirty or contaminated, you should wash them with antibacterial wash or plain soap and running water, then dry them using a single use paper towel.
  • If your hands are clean and are not visibly soiled, you should clean them with an alcohol-based hand product to decontaminate them and dry them using a single use paper towel.

If you have non-intact skin and have been exposed to blood or bodily fluid you must use antibacterial or plain soap, running water and paper towels, even if your hands are clean.


Hand Hygiene and PPE

Before starting any task of putting on gloves you should ensure that your hands are completely dry.

You need to wear gloves when:

  • you are at risk of coming into contact with blood or other bodily fluids like saliva or non-intact skin
  • you are performing Venepuncture or venous access injections, as you are at risk of blood exposure
  • your patients skin is not intact, for example if they have eczema, a skin infection or burn

If both your skin and the skin of your patient is intact and you’re carrying out intradermal, subcutaneous and intramuscular injections you should not wear gloves.

There is also no need to wear eye protection, masks or special protective clothing unless there is the risk of blood or bodily fluid splashes when carrying out the procedure.


Practices that increase accidents

Using sharps poses many risks to the user. Therefore, it is important that you’re aware of the actions that could increase your risk of experiencing a sharps related injury.

You are at an increased risk if you:

  • Carry out unnecessary injections
  • use two hands to recap used needles
  • Position your patient poorly
  • Have a poor phlebotomy technique
  • Have a lack of sharps boxes within arms reach
  • Try to dismantle used sharps
  • Do not properly segregate your sharps waste. This will be covered in more detail in the next module.

It’s important that you adhere to correct technique’s and good practices. They will reduce your risk of experiencing a sharps injury.