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March 10, 2010

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Europe approves law to prevent sharps injuries

EU ministers have approved a Directive aimed at protecting health-care

workers from injuries and infections associated with coming into

contact with sharp objects, such as needle-sticks.

The Directive* implements in law a framework agreement on the prevention of sharps injuries in the health-care sector, which was signed in July last year by European social partners, the European Public Services Union (EPSU) and the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers’ Association (HOSPEEM).

Speaking at the Council of Ministers’ meeting on 8 March, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, Laszlo Andor, said: “The health-care sector is one of the biggest employers in Europe and needles represent a real risk to workers, both in terms of injuries and increased rates of life-threatening infections like HIV, or hepatitis.

“The new Directive will better protect workers and their families, while reducing the burden of injuries on European health services.”

Sharp objects are estimated to cause 1 million injuries a year in European workplaces, and the new legislation specifically addresses the EU’s current aim to cut workplace accidents by 25 per cent by 2012. One of the key ways in which the Directive will support this overall aim is by setting up an integrated approach for assessing and preventing sharps-related risks, as well as for training and informing workers how to deal with the issue.

Godfrey Perera, secretary-general of HOSPEEM, accepted that the occurrence of accidents and infections associated with sharps cannot be entirely eliminated but wants to see appropriate procedures in place to reduce the number of incidents as much as possible. He stressed: “The use of risk assessment, prevention, protection and training procedures will help to achieve this result.”

Describing the Directive as “a major breakthrough”, Carola Fischbach-Pyttel, general secretary of EPSU, added: “With this Directive, EPSU and HOSPEEM have laid an important basis to create the safest possible working environment to prevent workers’ injuries caused by all medical sharps. We stress that a well-trained, adequately resourced and secure health-service workforce is essential to underpin that objective.”

All Member States must comply with the Directive, or ensure that the social partners have introduced the necessary measures by agreement, within the next three years.

* The full name of the Directive is ‘Council Directive implementing the Framework Agreement on prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and health-care sector concluded by HOSPEEM and EPSU’.

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