A study of UK waste handling staff showed that NSI's can lead to incidences of anxiety/stress disorder necessitating prolonged leave of absence with professional counseling and support

ABSTRACT

Clinical waste disposal carries with it a risk of serious and possibly life-threatening infection. Combining confidential questionnaires and structured interviews with discrete observation, the attitudes and approach to safe handling of bulk clinical wastes by staff in a specialist waste treatment facility were assessed. With particular attention to glove use and hand hygiene, observations were supplemented by review of group-wide accident and incident records, with emphasis on sharps injuries and related blood and bloodstained body fluid exposures. Deficiencies in glove selection and use, and in hand hygiene, were noted despite extensive and on-going training and supervision of waste handlers. Though ballistic puncture-resistant gloves protect against sharps injury, these were uncomfortable in use and were sometimes rejected by waste handlers who preferred thin-walled nitrile gloves that were more comfortable in use though provide no resistance to penetrating injury. Among the waste handlers working for a single specialist waste disposal company, sharps injuries (n = 40) occurred at a rate of approximately 1 per 29 000 man hours. Injuries were caused by hypodermic needles from improperly closed or overfilled sharps boxes (n = 6) or from sharps incorrectly discarded into thin-walled plastic sacks intended only for soft wastes (n  = 34). Most injuries occurred to the fingers or hands. No seroconversions occurred, though two individuals suffered anxiety/stress disorder necessitating prolonged leave of absence with professional counselling and support. Glove use and hand hygiene must feature prominently in the on-going training of waste handlers. Though ballistic gloves afford protection against sharps injury, the initial segregation and safe disposal of clinical wastes by healthcare professionals must provide the primary control measure. Despite robust and unambiguous legislation and good practice guidelines, serious errors by healthcare staff that result in the disposal of hypodermic needles and other sharps to thin-walled plastic waste sacks places waste handlers at risk of bloodborne virus infection. Further improvement in the standards of waste segregation and disposal by healthcare professionals are still required to protect ancillary and support staff and waste handlers working in the disposal sector.

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