At the sharp end

19 February 2019

As the risk of needlestick injuries to cleaning operatives continues to grow, James Marston, learning and development manager at the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), looks at what you can do to protect staff

In recent weeks I have learned of three cleaning operatives suffering needlestick injuries at work. They have an uncertain future as they take precautionary medicines and wait for blood test results in the knowledge they may have contracted a blood born virus (BBV) like Hepatitis. Tests can take 12 weeks and sometimes longer before results are notified. Organisations are reacting to reduce the risks but for these individuals it’s too late.

The recent Home Office report, ‘Drug misuse findings for 2017/18 in England and Wales’ states that one in 11 adults have taken an illicit drug in the last 12 months (three million people). Use of Class A drugs amongst 16 to 25-year olds is increasing.

Clearly needlesticks located in rubbish bags and paraphernalia in buildings and public spaces is not going to stop anytime soon. To reduce the risk of injury organisations are procuring armoured or steel gloves to increase staff protection. A positive step, but these can be expensive. The reality is gloves are often shared between several members of staff and so are not always available. In some cases, gloves can lull the operator into a false sense of security, taking greater risks thinking they are safe from harm. 

When discussing needlesticks I find staff have not truly understood the risks of black bags and their contents, that every waste bag could potentially contain a needlestick. Vacuum machines are another area of high risk. Poor judgement and technique when moving or changing vacuum bags by pressing down or having direct contact with the bag could lead to needlestick injury. The fact of the matter is needles can be anywhere. 

So, what can you do to protect your staff? Simple advice is often the most effective – never place your hands where you cannot see, for example under desks and high ledges. Keep hands out of rubbish bins and always use pickers or similar equipment to reduce the risk of stabbing. Although gloves are a positive step to protect staff, providing knowledge, training and creating effective organisational policies and procedures will ultimately ensure the safety of your employees.