NEEDLE STICKS: Cal OSHA Proposes New, Tougher Standards
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a draft last Thursday of "aggressive new regulations requiring the use of safety needles to stem a deadly epidemic of needle sticks among health care workers." In a letter, Cal OSHA Chief John Howard outlined proposed regulations that would require needles "with engineered needle stick protection" to be used in "procedures involving the withdrawal of body fluids or the administration of medication." The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the proposed changes have "clearly been pushed onto a fast track" as Howard told "committee members and other interested parties" he would receive comments until July 10, at which time he will submit the final draft for regulatory approval. However, the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, a seven-member panel appointed by the governor, must approve the new regulations -- a process the Chronicle notes could take "up to a year."
Leader Of The Pack
The Chronicle reports that if the rules are implemented, Cal OSHA "will lead the nation in forcing health care employers to provide their workers" with safer needle devices. "This will spur federal OSHA to take this matter much more seriously," said Bill Borwegen, health and safety director of Service Employees International Union. "Once again, California is leading the way in workers' safety and health issues. We are encouraged by this innovative approach," said Steven Gaskill, spokesperson for federal OSHA. Federal officials said earlier this month they are also considering "issuing interim compliance directives to their inspectors to enforce existing regulations aimed at shifting employers to safety needles."
The Chronicle reports that while safety needles "have been on the market for 10 years," employers have been reluctant to purchase them because they cost more than regular needles. But Borwegen said if Cal OSHA's regulations are implemented, the price of the safety devices should fall "as a result of the large number of devices the regulation would require California medical facilities to purchase." More than one million accidental needle sticks occur each year, infecting "tens of thousands of health care workers" with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases, the Chronicle reports (Carlsen, 6/22).