NEEDLE STICKS: Reps. Set to Introduce Safe Needle Act
Backed by the American Nurses Association, Reps. Pete Stark (D- CA) and Marge Roukema (R-NJ) are expected to introduce today a bill that would mandate the use of safe needles, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. At the same time, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman promised yesterday to protect the nearly 1 million health care workers who sustain needle sticks each year, resulting in "thousands of illnesses and hundreds of deaths" via HIV or hepatitis infections. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is considering a three-pronged approach, Herman said, noting that the agency will require all health care facilities to record needle stick incidents, encourage the use of needles with safety features -- protective sheaths or retractable needles -- and "consider toughening regulations designed to protect health care workers from infected blood." The measure put forth by Stark and Roukema, the Health Care Worker Needlestick and Sharps Injury Health Act, would take the OSHA requirements one step further by requiring employers to use engineered sharps (Sandalow/Holding, 5/21). In addition, the measure would create an injury log and a clearinghouse for information on new safe-needle technologies; and require employers to provide training to health care workers. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to introduce similar legislation in the Senate.
"It is unconscionable that there are safely devices available, yet they're not being provided to health care workers," said ANA President Beverly Malone (ANA release, 5/20). Nurses unions estimate that the regulations will cost $700,000 annually for a 300-bed hospital, which they say is far less than the cost of testing and treatment for health care workers inadvertently stuck with unsafe needles. Stark, who modeled the bill on California's safe-needle law, dismissed the financial costs of enacting the legislation, saying, "This is not something that the budget bean counters here would waste any time on" (Chronicle, 5/21). See the Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report for additional HIV/AIDS coverage.