Background: The operating room is a high-risk setting for occupational sharps injuries and bloodborne pathogen exposure. The requirement to provide safety-engineered devices, mandated by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000, has received scant attention in surgical settings.
Study design: We analyzed percutaneous injury surveillance data from 87 hospitals in the United States from 1993 through 2006, comparing injury rates in surgical and nonsurgical settings before and after passage of the law. We identified devices and circumstances associated with injuries among surgical team members.
Results: Of 31,324 total sharps injuries, 7,186 were to surgical personnel. After the legislation, injury rates in nonsurgical settings dropped 31.6%, but increased 6.5% in surgical settings. Most injuries were caused by suture needles (43.4%), scalpel blades (17%), and syringes (12%). Three-quarters of injuries occurred during use or passing of devices. Surgeons and residents were most often original users of the injury-causing devices; nurses and surgical technicians were typically injured by devices originally used by others.
Conclusions: Despite legislation and advances in sharps safety technology, surgical injuries continued to increase during the period that nonsurgical injuries decreased significantly. Hospitals should comply with requirements for the adoption of safer surgical technologies, and promote policies and practices shown to substantially reduce blood exposures to surgeons, their coworkers, and patients. Although decisions affecting the safety of the surgical team lie primarily in the surgeon's hands, there are also roles for administrators, educators, and policy makers.
Published by Elsevier Inc.