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We are all responsible for our own safety

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Individuals must be accountable for themselves Individuals must be accountable for themselves

The early part of my career in hospital virus labs entailed working with viruses on the open bench because exhaust protective cabinets were not commonplace. During that time, I contracted influenza and viral meningitis, and tests confirmed that the isolated strains were identical to those I'd been working with. It could have been worse.

One outcome was a heightened interest in occupational health, and I often contemplated whether responsibility for my health and safety lay primarily with my employer or with me. An answer suggested itself on the lab locker room mirror. A sticker bore the message: 'This person is responsible for your safety'.

I mention this because I've just read a report published in December 2014 by PHE. It's entitled Eye of the needle: United Kingdom surveillance of significant occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses in healthcare workers. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were 4,830 such exposures, and 71% of 4,766 exposures involved a needlestick injury, mostly with hollow-bore needles, between 2004 and 2013.

It is encouraging to note from the report that the percentage of injuries sustained in community settings fell from 7% in 2004 to 3% in 2013. Further grounds for optimism came with the news that, while 590 healthcare workers had had significant occupational exposures to hepatitis B virus (HBV) between 2004 and 2013, none had sero-converted. This was attributed to '… a combination of the success of the HBV immunisation programme among healthcare workers and prevention and risk-reduction strategies implemented in the healthcare setting.'

However, while this might provide grounds for cautious optimism, it is worth reminding ourselves of two things. First, a Europe-wide country study found that only 20–50% of all needlestick injuries are reported. Second, a recent risk evaluation of reported practices and policies in 21 acute care trusts within the NHS in London found that over 90% of all exposures resulted from failures to comply with DH guidance on the safe management of healthcare waste.

It seems worth reiterating that we are each responsible for our own safety.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

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