Taking action to prevent bloodborne infections

A common shared goal among registered nurses is to help people get better and stay healthier. In our pursuit of this goal, we sometimes sacrifice ourselves to keep our patients safe. We work extra hard. We work extra hours. We work faster. We put ourselves in awkward positions to lift and turn and transfer patients. And sometimes we don’t take precautions designed to keep us safe and healthy—or we can’t take them because of workplace conditions or lack of proper equipment and policies.

This special report on bloodborne infections provides vital information for all nurses. It serves as a valuable reminder that as we go about our work, we need to pause and consider how we can stay safe on the job. More often than not, this important pause—to don appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), get a lifting device, or use only safe needle devices—keeps patients safer, too.

And if we don’t have the human resources, equipment, policies, and training that should be available in our workplaces to prevent injuries and infections, we need to advocate for change. We have to let employers, policymakers, and colleagues know that unbridled risks to our health and well-being won’t be tolerated. Preventing bloodborne infections is a topic I feel passionate about, both professionally and personally. Nearly 13 years ago, while working as a staff nurse in the emergency department, I was stuck by a needle protruding from a sharps container. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I became hepatitis C-positive and HIV-positive. I made the difficult decision to leave direct-care nursing-a role I’d found incredibly rewarding for 26 years.

Soon afterward, I made another important decision: I would share my story publicly as I worked with other nurses in my home state of Massachusetts and nationally through ANA’s Safe Needles Save Lives campaign to prevent others from sustaining such a life-changing injury. We’ve had many successes, including the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. But more needs to be done. ANA and the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia recently issued a call to action aimed at protecting healthcare workers from exposure to bloodborne diseases. The Consensus Statement and Call to Action, endorsed by 19 nursing and healthcare organizations (available at www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/safetycenter/Consensus_statement_sharps_injury_prevention.pdf) focuses on five crucial areas, including addressing gaps in available safety devices, involving frontline workers in selecting safety devices, and enhancing worker education and training.
At ANA, we believe employers must be held accountable for complying with the law, and we believe all nurses and healthcare workers-no matter the role or setting—should be able to work in an environment steeped in a culture of safety.

As nurses, each of us must do our part. We need to help create and get active on safety committees that address such issues as workplace hazards and selection and evaluation of safer needle devices. We need to educate ourselves on health and safety issues and ways to advocate for ourselves and, in turn, our patients. The ANA website has many resources available to help you in your efforts, including those addressing needlestick injury prevention (see http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/
WorkplaceSafety/SafeNeedles
).

We need to do our due diligence, such as using appropriate PPE to prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Patients can be unpredictable and equipment can fail, so it makes sense to take precautions that can prevent an errant splash to the skin or eyes. We must report sharps injuries and mucocutaneous exposures, and seek necessary treatment.


And we need to demand and cultivate a safe working environment. We deserve no less.

Karen Daley is President of the American Nurses Association.

This special report was funded by BD Medical. Content of this special report was developed independently of the sponsor and all articles have undergone peer review according to American Nurse Today standards.

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