New rules to give nurses greater protection against sharps injuries have come into force across the European Union.
All healthcare employers are required to introduce “safer sharps” with protection mechanisms, where possible, under a range of measures introduced by EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU, which came into force on Saturday 11 May.
The directive, which complements existing UK health and safety legislation, was adopted in February 2010. Its implementation brings to a close a legislative process dating back to 2005.
As well as safer sharps, it requires employers to prevent the recapping of needles, except where recapping is itself required to prevent risk. Employers must also train staff in the correct use and disposal of sharps and provide information to them on needlestick injuries.
Where an employee may have been exposed to a bloodborne virus, employers must ensure they have immediate access to medical advice and counselling, where appropriate.
Meanwhile, members of staff now have a duty to ensure they notify their employer “as soon as practicable” when they suffer a needlestick injury at work.
The directive applies to NHS, private and voluntary sector healthcare employers, including staff providing services in patients’ homes and contractors such as bank nurses. However, it does not cover residential care homes, prisons or schools.
Its introduction followed lobbying by Unison and the Royal College of Nursing, working closely with the NHS Employers organisation and the government’s Health and Safety Executive.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter described the new rules as a “significant victory”.
“We have always believed that nurses and healthcare assistants should not have to go to work fearing that they could be exposed to serious infections,” he said. “It is horrific to have serious infections such as hepatitis and HIV simply because steps haven’t been taken to avoid preventable accidents.”
NHS Employers chief executive Dean Royles said: “The NHS will implement these regulations to help improve safety for our healthcare workers in the workplace.”
Sharps injuries account for 17% of NHS staff injuries and at least 17 healthcare workers were infected with hepatitis C as a result of one between 1996 and 2009.
Detailed guidance on the directive has been published by the government.
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