New regulations to control risks posed by sharps in healthcare

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What are Sharps?

‘Sharps’ are medical sharps, e.g. syringes, needles and scalpels used in specific healthcare activities and which are able to cut, prick or cause injury.

The word ‘sharps’ also includes ‘safer sharps’, which are medical sharps incorporating a feature/mechanism, e.g. a shield that slides over a blade, after use, that prevents or minimises the risk of accidental injury from cutting or pricking the skin.

Which employers* have duties under the new regulations?

The new regulations apply to healthcare employers, i.e. those whose primary work is the management, organisation or provision of healthcare, e.g. residential care homes, a pharmacy or dental practice where the primary purpose/activity is the provision of healthcare. They also apply to contractor employers working in a healthcare environment or who handle health care waste or equipment and who might be exposed to sharps that have not been disposed of correctly, e.g. cleaners, laundry workers and waste disposal workers.

Healthcare employers’ duties

Sharps injuries are a well known risk in the healthcare sector and sharps contaminated with an infected patient’s blood are able to transmit pathogens that cause more than 20 diseases, including hepatitis B and C and HIV. The new regulations build on the current law to safely manage the risks from sharps and provides for healthcare employers and relevant contractor employers to comply with specific requirements in respect of:-

The use and disposal of sharps

In addition to considering the hierarchy of control required by COSHH, for hazardous substances and pathogens, relevant employers MUST ensure that:-

  • the use of sharps at work is avoided so far as reasonably practicable
  • safer sharps are used, where the use of sharps cannot be avoided altogether
  • the re-capping of needles is prevented (unless a risk assessment deems that procedure necessary to reduce the risk of cross contamination and that suitable controls are in place)
  • clearly marked and secure containers are placed near to the area where sharps are used, for safe disposal.

Information and training

Relevant employers are specifically required to provide employees with information and training on:-

  • the risk of injury from sharps
  • both the employers’ and employees’ legal duties on the protection from risks from sharps
  • good practice in preventing injury
  • the benefits and drawbacks of vaccination in respect of blood borne diseases
  • what support is available from the employer in case of injury
  • the safe use and disposal of sharps
  • correct use of safer sharps
  • what employees should do if injured by a sharp
  • arrangements for health surveillance and other procedures in case of injury.

Arrangements in the event of injury

The new regulations require relevant employers to have procedures in place and to take specific actions in the event of a sharps injury, so that they can respond effectively and quickly. These include procedures for:-

  • notifying their employer of any sharps injury
  • recording and investigating a sharps injury
  • providing employees with access to suitable medical treatment, advice and counselling, where appropriate.


*It is recommended that all employers whose employees are exposed to sharps, including veterinary and mortuary workers, consider the following measures as best practice when complying with their obligations to eliminate or reduce the risk of sharps injuries.

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