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Personal Injury Law Update: Sharps loopholes will put workers at risk

A European Directive on preventing sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector should be implemented in full, according to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). The industry body was responding to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) recent consultation on the issue.

The HSE was seeking views on proposed regulations that will give effect to the EU law. Contact Miller Samuel’s injury lawyers for more information on how these laws apply in practice.

The regulations

The new regulations will require employers in the healthcare sector to introduce arrangements for the safe use and disposal of medical sharps, to provide information and training to employees, and to record, investigate and take action following a sharps injury.

The regulations will also introduce a duty on healthcare workers to promptly report any sharps injury to their employer.

Watering down the Directive

APIL is concerned that the HSE is actually watering down the Directive, and has called for the regulator to implement it in full.

“A medical worker who is pricked by a needle, for instance, can suffer life-changing consequences if he becomes infected with Hepatitis B or HIV,” said APIL president Karl Tonks. “So it’s imperative that proper measures are taken which help ensure that everything possible is done to prevent such incidents occurring.”

Ambiguous new rules

APIL also believes that the draft regulations are ambiguous, and contain loopholes which may leave some workers unprotected.

“If, as proposed, the regulations only apply to an employer whose ‘main activity’ is healthcare, then an organisation which provides healthcare services as well as services in other sectors, like aviation for instance, may be exempt from the regulations altogether,” Karl commented. “Surely this would undermine the entire point of having regulations in the first place, as they are meant to ensure people’s safety across the board.”

“It’s a huge disappointment that the draft regulations fall so short of the European Directive,” he added.

Similar concerns elsewhere

Similar concerns have also been raised by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), in its own response to the consultation.

The professional body argues that people in all professions should be protected when working with sharp medical instruments, and warned the regulator against excluding non-medical workers from the regulations.

According to IOSH, there are an estimated 100,000 sharps injuries a year in the UK. A survey of NHS staff found that 2% had suffered a needlestick injury in the previous year.