Sharps injuries and ancillary staff

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2012 Health Care Service Group Conference
16 December 2011

This conference would like to reiterate that within the NHS sharps injuries affect both clinical and non-clinical staff. Although injuries to nurses have understandably attracted the media attention (at least 4 UK nurses are known to have died from occupationally acquired blood borne viruses) cleaning staff are particularly at risk as it is they who are often the unwitting victims of the careless disposal of used sharps by other groups of staff. These injuries may not only result in the transmission of potentially fatal blood-borne viruses, but also cause avoidable absence from work, stress and anxiety regardless of whether or not the injury proves to be infectious. What angers NHS staff is that these injuries are avoidable if only employers conducted robust risk assessments and implemented the necessary safety measures including:

a)The use of safety devices

b)The safe disposal of sharps

c)Safety procedures such as banning recapping

d)The training and education of NHS staff

Conference congratulates the excellent work of both UNISON and the Bio-Safety Network in promoting the 2010 European Directive on preventing sharps injuries. It notes the leading role of UNISON in negotiating the social partners’ agreement that formed the foundation of the European directive. This demonstrated that both trade unions and employers, including the NHS, were committed to the legislation and taking measures to minimise the risk of sharps injuries. That is why it is so disappointing that since this Tory led Government came to power that the UK has dragged its feet in the implementation of the directive and is delaying the implementation of the directive as long as is legally possible, i.e. May 2013. In addition the 35% cut in the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Budget means there will no longer be any pro-active HSE inspections such as the HSE campaign of 2010 that targeted the management of sharps injuries.

Conference notes that UNISON is due to host the June 2012 Bio-Safety Conference highlighting the dangers of sharps injuries, and how they can impact on workers from all sectors. However conference believes that the Bio-Safety Conference is an opportunity to highlight the opportunities the sharps directive provides for protecting all NHS workers and in particular those staff, such as cleaners and other ancillary staff, for whom the risks are sometimes ignored.

This conference therefore instructs the Service Group Executive to use UNISON’s hosting of the Bio-Safety conference to:

1)Raise awareness of the risks of sharps injuries to all NHS Staff, both clinical and non-clinical groups;

2)Show that these life threatening injuries are avoidable through robust risk assessment and the implementation of the necessary safety measures;

3)Expose the shameful reluctance of the UK government to take the necessary measures to implement and transpose the European Sharps Directive into UK law.