Posted June 8, 2012
On May 30, 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and OSHA issued a Joint Safety Communication, "Blunt-Tip Surgical Suture Needles Reduce Needlestick Injuries and the Risk of Subsequent Blood Borne Pathogen Transmission to Surgical Personnel." Suture needles are used by NFDA members in the preparation process.
The purpose of the Joint Safety Communication was to "strongly" encourage health care professionals to use blunt tip suture needles as an alternative to suture needles when suturing fascia and muscles to decrease the risk of needle stick injuries. Blunt tip suture needles are not as sharp as standard suture needles, are designed to penetrate muscle and fascia and, according to OSHA, reduce the risk of needle sticks.
The Joint Safety Communication indicated that while needlestick injury rates have been decreasing among non-surgical health care personnel, this has not been the case among those who work in surgical settings. The Communication cited a 2010 article, which was published by the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses Journal, that said more than half of needlestick injuries involving suture needles occurred during the suturing of fascia or muscles.
The Joint Safety Communication also indicated that while blunt tip suture needles reduced the risk of needlestick injuries, they are more expensive than their standard suture needle counterpart. The Joint Safety Communication indicates that the increased cost of blunt tip suture needles is balanced by the economic savings associated with needlestick injury prevention.
According to OSHA, the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard requires the use of safety devices, such as blunt tip suture needles, when clinically appropriate, to reduce the risk of needlestick injury and subsequent pathogen transmission to personnel. The Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, again according to OSHA, requires employers, with input from non-management direct patient care employees, to consider and implement available, appropriate, and effective safer medical devices, designed to eliminate or minimize occupational exposure. Citing a 2007 NIOSH and OSHA Joint Safety and Health Information Bulletin, OSHA's recommendation is that blunt tip suture needles, when clinically appropriate, should be used to decrease needlestick injuries to surgical personnel.
Funeral service personnel should consider OSHA's position on blunt tip needles and, where appropriate, replace standard suture needles with blunt tip suture needles to reduce the possibility of needlesticks during the preparation process and to comply with the OSHA requirement for safer sharps devices. Whether a funeral home employer has annually consider the use of "safer" devices, such as blunt tip suture needles, to reduce the risk of needlestick injury and subsequent pathogen transmission to embalming personnel during the preparation process will, no doubt, be considered during an OSHA inspection relating to the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard
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