Occupational safety: prevention of exposure (including sharps injuries)

The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 outline the regulatory requirements for employers and contractors in the healthcare sector in relation to: arrangements for the safe use and disposal of sharps; provision of information and training to employees; investigations and actions required in response to work related sharps injuries.

There is a potential risk of transmission of a Blood Borne Virus (BBV) from a significant occupational exposure and staff must understand the actions they should take when a significant occupational exposure incident takes place. There is a legal requirement to report all sharps injuries and near misses to line managers/employers.

A significant occupational exposure is:

  • a percutaneous injury eg injuries from needles, instruments, bone fragments, or bites which break the skin; and/or
  • exposure of broken skin (abrasions, cuts, eczema, etc); and/or
  • exposure of mucous membranes including the eye from splashing of blood or other high risk body

For the management of an occupational exposure incident see Appendix 10.

Safety devices

The European Union Council Directive 2010/32/EU. Framework agreement on prevention of sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector is concerned with reducing and eliminating the number of ‘sharps’ related injuries which occur within healthcare. Its basic guidance is:

  • If a sharp instrument is to be used, then a non-sharp alternative is to be sourced and
  • If a non-sharp alternative is not available, then a safety device is to be sourced and
  • If a safety device is not available then all available risk management processes should be employed such as sticky mats, sharps bins, safety procedures and training

Sharps handling must be assessed, kept to a minimum and eliminated, if possible, with the use of approved safety devices.

  • Manufacturers’ instructions for safe use and disposal must be
  • Needles must not be re-sheathed/recapped or disassembled after
  • Sharps must not be passed directly hand to
  • Used sharps must be discarded at the point of use by the person generating the
  • Always dispose of needles and syringes as 1
  • If a safety device is being used safety mechanisms must be deployed before

When transporting sharps boxes for community use these must be transported safely with the use of temporary closures.

Further information can be found in occupational exposure management (incl. sharps) literature review.

Manual contents

Chapter 1: Standard infection control precautions (SICPs)

Chapter 2: Transmission based precautions (TBPs)


Download a PDF copy of the National infection prevention and control manual for England