Ask The Expert With Barry Craig | April 2012

Question:

Hope you can help. I have been trying to find regulations and fines for safety sharps. I want to show the employees how why it's important to correctly use sharps in accordance with OSHA. What will happen if they don't use safety sharps and we get inspected? I need something in writing to show them that the rules do exist. Where can I look? I have tried the OSHA web site and OSHAguard and am at a loss. I want them to see in dollar amounts what it would cost the practice if they fail to use safety sharps. Thank you in advance for your help.

Answer:

Safety collection devices are not optional. Disregard for the rules can result in OSHA fines of up to 50,000.00 per infraction.

Here's a further explanation that is taken from the OSHA regulations:

Q:

What is the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act?

A:

The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act (the Act) (Pub. L. 106-430) was signed into law on November 6, 2000. Because occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens from accidental sharps injuries in healthcare and other occupational settings continues to be a serious problem, Congress felt that a modification to OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard was appropriate (29 CFR 1910.1030) to set forth in greater detail (and make more specific) OSHA's requirement for employers to identify, evaluate, and implement safer medical devices. The Act also mandated additional requirements for maintaining a sharps injury log and for the involvement of non-managerial healthcare workers in evaluating and choosing devices.

Q:

How does the "Needlestick Act" apply to OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard?

A:

The Act directed OSHA to revise its Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). OSHA published the revised standard in the Federal Register on January 18, 2001; it took effect on April 18, 2001. The agency implemented a 90-day outreach and education effort for both OSHA staff and the regulated public before beginning enforcement of the new requirements. Accordingly, OSHA will not enforce the new provisions of the standard (requiring employers to maintain a sharps injury log and to involve non-managerial employees in selecting safer needle devices) until July 17, 2001. (The requirement to implement the use of engineeringcontrols, which includes safer medical devices, has been in effect since 1992).

Q:

How does the revision affect states that operate their own federally-approved occupational safety and health programs?

A:

States and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved state programs must adopt the revisions to the bloodborne pathogens standard, or adopt a more stringent amendment to their existing standard, by Oct. 18, 2001. (NOTE: The original adoption date for state plan states was July 18, 2001 (or six months from the date the standard was published in the Federal Register). However, an additional three months was added which coincides with the Federal 90-day education campaign).

Q:

Does the standard apply to public sector (State and local government) employees?

A:

Federal OSHA standards do not apply to public sector employees, but the 24 states and two territories that operate OSHA-approved state plans are required to enforce an "at least as effective" standard in the public sector.

Q:

Does the "Needlestick Act" apply to me?

A:

OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, including its 2001 revisions, applies to all employers who have employees with reasonably anticipated occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). These employers must implement the applicable requirements set forth in the standard. Some of the new and clarified provisions in the standard apply only to healthcare activities, but some of the provisions, particularly the requirements to update the Exposure Control Plan and to keep a sharps injury log, will apply to non-healthcare as well as healthcare activities.

Q:

By what date do we have to implement safer medical devices?

A:

The requirement to implement safer medical devices is not new. However, the revised standard further clarifies what is meant by "engineering controls" in the original 1991 Bloodborne Pathogens standard by adding language to the definition section of the standard that reflects the development and availability of new safer medical devices over the last decade. The 1991 standard states, "engineering and work practice controls shall be used to eliminate or minimize employee exposure." The revision defines Engineering Controls as "controls (e.g., sharps disposal containers, self-sheathing needles, safer medical devices, such as sharps with engineered sharps injury protections and needleless systems) that isolate or remove the bloodborne pathogens hazard from the workplace." Consequently, you should already have safer devices in place. If you have not already evaluated and implemented appropriate and available engineering controls, you must do so now. Also, employees with occupational exposure to blood and OPIM must be trained regarding the proper use of all engineering and work practice controls.

Q:

What if I've never had an employee experience a needlestick, do I still need to use safer devices?

A:

Yes. OSHA standards are intended to be implemented as a means to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses. In order to most effectively avoid percutaneous injuries from contaminated sharps, employees must use engineering controls, including safer medical devices.