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The Sensible Approach to Sharps

02 December 2014

Latest review

Everything dentists should know about the new Sharps Regulations 2013

On 11 May 2013, the Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) "Regulations" 2013 took effect. The Regulations were made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and they implement (in part) EC Directive 2010/32/EU as required under European law.

For most dental practices in the UK, the new Regulations have relatively little direct impact because the prevention of sharps injuries was already well provided for in UK legislation.

However, Dental Protection welcomes the recognition that needlestick injuries are only one form – and indeed, a small proportion – of the sharps injuries that have traditionally been suffered by the dental  team.

Risk management opportunities

Primary care dental practitioners and dental practice owners are already well ahead of the curve in their understanding and implementation of the new safety requirements. However, the issues flagged up by the new Regulations include:

  • Taking steps to avoid the unnecessary use of sharps
  • Where the use of sharps is felt to be unavoidable because of the nature of the procedures being undertaken (for example, local anaesthesia or oral surgery), the employer must substitute traditional unprotected medical sharps with a 'safer sharp' where it is reasonably practicable to do so.. Part 1 of the regulations describes a 'safer sharp' as one which 'is designed and constructed to incorporate a feature or mechanism which prevents or minimises the risk of accidental injury from cutting or pricking the skin'
  • Employers must be able to show they have taken steps to ensure that all team members have been trained in the management of sharps, whether those items already in use or new designs which are subsequently introduced
  • Preventing re-capping (re-sheathing) of needles. This involves the manual replacing of the protective sheath over the tip and shaft of a needle after use, and is a technique well known to have been associated with needlestick injuries in the past
  • The provision and prominent labelling of suitable secure containers in close proximity to the point of use, designed for the safe disposal and storage of sharps

Further advice

There are some situations where it is helpful to be reminded that particular risks exist and need to be managed appropriately:

  • When a new staff member joins the team
  • When a third party is present in clinical/treatment area for any reason
  • When using sharps away from the normal workplace for any reason
  • In situations where employers and practice owners are remote from the point of delivery of dental care

Remember also to keep adequate records in respect of staff training, information, incidents, etc., and to apply a sensible approach to risk control. Using a variety of risk control techniques maximises their effectiveness. All incidents must be recorded and dealt with appropriately.