A thirty-second glimpse into any of today’s frenzied medical facilities will confirm that things have changed dramatically since Florence Nightengale’s day; rushed rounds, incessant pressure, and burdensome administrative duties have modern day nurses stretched thinner than ever before.

Although the nurses of today may have traded in their oil lamps for electricity and ditched the dresses for scrubs, prioritizing patient-comfort and care have remained an industry constant. So it’s of no surprise that according to a 2008 study, over 82% of nurses put patient-care first – even before their own personal safety. While a nurse’s self-sacrificing tendencies might be considered simply part of the job, could that mindset actually be putting the world’s caretakers at serious personal risk?

The Occupational Risk Nurses Face Every Day

The American Nurses Association (ANA) and Inviro Medical Devices sponsored an independent study where they conducted interviews of nurses across the country. Titled “The Nurses’ Views on Workplace Safety and Needlestick Injuries (NSIs)”, the study uncovered a serious occupational hazard facing nurses today: contracting life-threatening diseases through accidental punctures by contaminated needles.

Needlestick injuries transmit infectious diseases, especially blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and even HIV/AIDS. Other diseases which can be transmitted by NSIs include Blastomycosis, Brucellosis, Cryptococcosis, Diphtheria, Cutaneous gonorrhea, Herpes, Malaria, Mycobacteriosis, Mycoplasma caviae, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Sporotrichosis, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Syphilis, Toxoplasmosis, and Tuberculosis.

With such a serious risk to personal health and safety, one would assume that  nurses would be forthcoming about an incident of exposure….Strangely enough, that’s not the case.

Studies show that in reality, the afflicted population is not reporting critical information to their superiors. Of an estimated 800,000 needlestick incidents occurring per year, less than 50% are reported.

Nurses Should be Aware of the Dangers and Protocols

With only half of nurses reporting needlestick injuries, it seems the issue may not be as simple as it seems. Have nurses allowed their commitment to patient-care get in the way of their own health and personal well being? Of the nurses polled, the study drew the following conclusions:

  • 64% consider NSIs and blood borne infections to be a major concern
  • 87% are influenced by safety concerns when choosing a nursing specialty
  • 91% are familiar with their workplace’s protocol regarding needlestick injuries

If nurses are familiar with the reporting protocol and simultaneously understand the danger of being exposed to contaminated needles, then why the lack of reporting?

Why 50% of Nurses Don’t Report NPIs

NSIs may be the most common occupational hazard facing the nursing community today. The majority of the nurses in the study (64%) reported that they’ve been accidentally stuck by a needle when working; of those nurses reporting NSIs, 74% have been accidentally stuck by a contaminated needle. Yet, reporting percentages seem to be on a slow-and seemingly nonsensical- decline.

Research shows that the lack of reporting can be linked to the three most prominent factors:

  1. They don’t believe they’re at risk of infection.
    Nurses who experience NSIs may not wish to document their incident out of the lack of concern for any potential health risks. If they experienced an NSI in the past that did not result in any harm done, there might be the assumption that reporting is unnecessary. However, full reporting for every incident is vital to a comprehensive understanding of the issue. Increased reporting may help employers to grasp the underlying issues surrounding NSIs and implement protocols to address these concerns.
  2. They don’t want to deal with the reporting process.
    As the pace of the medical world increases, many nurses are already overwhelmed by their current responsibilities. An NSI incident itself is enough to worry about without having to deal with the aftermath of reporting the situation. When weighing options, it seems more nurses prefer to keep quiet than speak up and deal with the repercussions of a defective reporting system. Staying silent ensures that you won’t be required to fill out hours of paperwork, attend lengthy meetings about the incident, or deal with ongoing tests and treatment.
  3. They are afraid of the backlash.
    It’s no surprise that many nurses avoid reporting for fear that their professional competence will be questioned. After working exhausting hours, having to be fully aware and on your A-game at all times, not to mention the emotional toll  most nurses have to shoulder on a daily basis, it’s easy to understand that accidents, like needlesticks do happen. The fear is that instead of being seen as a reasonable mishap, such an incident might be clouded with accusations of negligence or incompetence. So, unfortunately, instead of speaking up, 50% of nurses decide it’s better to avoid the backlash altogether.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from NSIs

  • Be sure to get your Hepatitis B vaccine. 95% of nurses report taking a Hepatitis B vaccine shot to protect themselves from accidental exposure.
  • Keep your hands and fingers safely behind the needle point when employing or disposing of a syringe.
  • Activate the safety mechanism to permanently disable the syringe after use.

Though nurses receive education about needlestick prevention in their training, the majority believe it would be beneficial to receive more information about needlestick injury prevention.

Where to Go for Help?

Amidst increasing hours and workloads, rising stress levels, and pressure related to productivity metrics and patient acuity levels, the nursing community is __. With more to do in less time, nurses are forced to rush to complete their taskload; working twelve or more hours some shifts leave nurses exhausted and increase the risk of ___.

https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/needlestick_injuries.html
http://www.nursingworld.org/Content/occupationalhealth/OccupationalResources/2008SafetyandNeedlestickStudy.pdf