SAFETY NEEDLES: CDC Urges Use in Health Care Facilities
Issuing a "strongly worded safety alert" yesterday, the CDC urged health facilities to use specially designed safety needles to protect health care workers from accidental needle stick injuries. The notice comes just weeks after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration authorized its inspectors to issue citations to health care facilities that fail to use the safer needles. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said in a statement yesterday, "We must do everything we can to protect workers who may be at risk of exposure to blood-borne diseases" (Carlsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/23). The AP/Nando Times reports that the FDA has approved 50 safety needles and syringes, including those that have retractable needles, syringes with protective sheaths and vaccine injectors that use pressure rather than a needle to deliver medication. The CDC estimates that implementing the use of safe needles would reduce the number of needle stick-related injuries by 80%. Approximately 600,000 health care workers annually are accidentally stuck with a needle. However, the American Nurses Association indicates that only 15% of hospitals currently use safety needles (Neergaard, AP/Nando Times, 11/23).
Tip of the Iceberg?
Officials believe that the use of safe needles will increase dramatically. California became the first state to require the use of safety needles in hospitals and health care facilities in July. Since then, Maryland and Tennessee passed similar legislation, and 20 other states are debating laws that would establish the precautionary measure. Congress also is debating the safety needle issue. Bill Borwegen of the Service Employees International Union, the largest health care worker's union in the nation, hailed the recommendation, calling it "long overdue." He said, "This has been a national tragedy. Finally, this safety alert sheds light on the ugly little secret that hospitals have been sweeping under the rug too long" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/23). Dr. Linda Rosenstock, director for the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said, "Too many people see needle stick injuries as a routine part of doing business. We want to change that view." Many health care facilities have been hesitant to implement the new safe needle policy, citing cost as the main obstacle. Regular syringes cost about $.06 compared to $.25 for safety needles. However, Rosenstock called that concern "shortsighted," as the cost of testing and treating employees who contract blood-borne diseases through needle sticks could cost thousands of dollars more (AP/NandoTimes, 11/23). She said, "The public attention and awareness of this problem has lagged behind the scope of it" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/23).