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Medical workers: Report every accidental needle stick

If you’re a medical worker who handles needles, you know that one slip of a glove or wrong move with your hand can expose you to incredible amounts of danger from an accidental needle stick.

Medical workers take blood from patients about 400 million times every year — in hospitals, clinics, outpatient labs and doctors’ offices. Blood also gets taken in ambulances and emergency rooms all the time — which are often chaotic atmospheres that make it hard for a medical worker to completely concentrate.

Is it any wonder, then, that medical workers suffer accidental sticks from used needles all the time? Globally, it’s estimated that about 2 million medical workers are stuck by contaminated needles every year — although the reality is likely far worse. Studies show that medical workers usually only report about half of their accidental sticks — often taking their chances if they know who the needle was used on and decide that the patient is relatively “low-risk” for any serious disease.

Why would a medic, nurse, or doctor take that kind of risk? Partially, it’s because the paperwork involved in a report is time-consuming and puts more strain on already strained working conditions. Safety protocols also require medical workers to start harsh medications — and those sometimes interfere with the ability to function. Injured workers also have to go through regular medical testing for weeks or months following an incident.

Hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities are legally required to provide safety devices, like sharps containers that are designed to protect against accidental sticks, to all personnel. Unfortunately, there’s no good system to ensure compliance — and problems usually only come to light after there’s an incident.

Hospitals and other medical facilities will only start to address the shortcomings in their safety protocols when they’re held accountable — and that means that medical professionals have to demand that accountability. If you’re stuck by a contaminated needle, report it immediately. Not only does that protect your interests if you happen to be infected by one of the 60 or so pathogens that can be transmitted that way, but it will also force the facility to reexamine its safety procedures.

Injured medical workers are also smart to retain counsel of their own if they do get sick from the prick of a contaminated needle in order to best protect their own interests.