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Needlestick and Sharps Injuries

A needlestick injury is exactly what it sounds like – being stuck with a needle that punctures the skin leaving a wound. Sometimes this happens with other sharp objects such as scissors, razors, scalpels, clamps, pins, or lancets. Anything sharp enough to cut through skin can cause a “sharps” injury.
Needlestick and sharps injuries occur when medical tools are used but not disposed of properly. Left exposed in trash containers or lying in bed linens, other unsuspecting medical personnel or cleaning crews can be accidentally stuck with the used needle or sharp object. Injuries can also occur during insertion or removal of needles, in transit to disposal, during the transfer of equipment, or in a collision with a sharp or worker.

Associated Risks

Being stuck with a needle or a sharp that has already been used potentially exposes the hurt person to infectious diseases, especially bloodborne viruses, that the patient may have. Contaminated needles can inject hazardous fluids through the skin and into the body. Even a small amount of infectious fluid is enough to spread some diseases. Cuts in skin made by sharps allow the same kind of contact of blood and fluids.

Hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which can develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) can all be transmitted by needlestick and sharp injuries. The degree of risk varies by which pathogen was involved and how advanced the disease was in the patient.

Other kinds of diseases that can be contracted through needlesticks and sharps include bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms such as:

  • Blastomycosis
  • Cutaneous gonorrhea
  • Diphtheria
  • Herpes
  • Malaria
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Syphilis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Tuberculosis

Workers who may be at risk for needlestick and sharps injuries include healthcare workers, correctional healthcare workers, first responders, veterinarians, and maintenance and waste workers.

Preventing Injuries

The best way to protect employees from work-related injury is through prevention. Eliminating risk by reducing needle use for medication delivery, specimen collection and as many procedures as possible is ideal. Where this is not possible, the following guidelines are necessary to prevent injury.

  • Effective Disposal Systems – This is a crucial step in protecting workers. Wide mouth, puncture proof containers should be readily available where needles and sharps are used to ensure safe disposal. When they are three quarters full, containers should be sealed and disposed of according to local regulations for biomedical waste.
  • Equipment Design – Choose equipment designed with safety in mind such as protected needle devices or needle-free systems that use self-sealing ports and syringes. Devices with passive safety systems are more effective than those with safety mechanisms that need to be activated.
  • Training – Staff should be trained on the hazards of using needles and sharps and on the use of safety equipment. Studies show that when both conventional and safety devices are available, nurses will often choose a conventional device that they are more familiar with and used to using, which puts them at greater risk of injury.
  • Work Practices – Safety controls should be implemented to reduce the risk of injury. These include avoiding passing sharps hand-to-hand and using tools to grasp and unload needles and scalpels. Staff should be monitored to ensure compliance with the disposal system.

What to Do

If you have been stuck with a needle make sure you cleanse the wound thoroughly with soap and water. If contact was made with skin, nose or mouth, these should be flushed with water. Eyes can be irrigated with saline solution. It is very important to report the incident and seek care which includes medical testing for HIV, HBV, and HCV. The following information should be documented in your report:

  • The time and date of injury, the procedure being performed and injury site.
  • The type of sharp/needle that caused the injury including the brand name. If the device had a safety mechanism that malfunctioned be sure to report that as well.
  • Your health status and the health status of the patient, especially the presence of known blood borne pathogens.

Workers’ Compensation

If you test positive for a disease acquired from a needlestick or sharps injury that happened at your place of work, your employer may be liable for the cost of your medical care and monitoring, as well as your wage loss benefits, if you are unable to continue working. Even if you are not infected, but were forced to miss work while waiting for the results of testing, you may be eligible for temporary disability benefits. If your injury was caused by faulty safety equipment, damages may be recovered from the manufacturer through a third-party claim.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at The Law Offices of Gross & Kenny, LLP Help Workers Infected by Needlestick Injuries

If you have experienced a needlestick or sharps injury on the job, contact an experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyer at the Law Offices of Gross & Kenny, LLP. Call 267-589-0090 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.