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Though seroconversions to HIV or hepatitis infections are rare, needlesticks and other occupational blood exposures can throw healthcare workers into emotional turmoil and considerable angst as they await test results over several months.
Thus, some healthcare facilities take a zero tolerance approach to needlesticks, constantly striving to prevent sharps injuries and exposures. “In the high achievers -- the real sharps-aware hospitals -- there is no complacency or toleration of the notion that exposures are simply inevitable,” says Linda Good, RN, PhD, RB, COHN-S, manager of occupational health services at Scripps Health in San Diego. “They have it as a top priority to eliminate them and go to zero, which is a radical idea.”
Indeed, at too many hospitals sharps injuries and blood exposures are doggedly tracked and reported, but the rates resist reduction and a status quo of low expectations sets in.
“I think organizations get complacent,” Good says. “They track it, and keep their sharps logs, and go to infection control [meetings] and report, ‘For this month we had so many needlesticks and so many splashes.’ It doesn’t alarm them -- it’s like it is just a number. Or maybe they feel bad and wish [exposure rates] would come down.
But wishing something would happen without any kind of action -- it just goes on.” Good is the lead author of the Exposure Study of Occupational Practice (EXPO-S.T.O.P.), which the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP) conducts annually.1 In this latest iteration of the survey, researchers interviewed employee health professionals and other leaders at the top facilities to glean some of their strategies for success.
“Even though they are already better than vast majority of their counterparts they still have such a commitment to a safe work environment and a culture of safety,” Good says. “They are committed to it – it’s not just a slogan. They really feel that this is important to them. I think any organization puts its emphasis on whatever their top leaders direct them towards and model for them as what is important. That was a characteristic of these hospitals. It was from the very highest [leaders] on down through the ranks. They felt it was everyone’s responsibility to work safely, and that includes [preventing] bloodborne pathogen exposures.”
For more on this story see the July 2017 issue of Hospital Employee Health.