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Clinton Expected to Sign Legislation Protecting Health Care Workers from Needlestick Injuries

Kathleen M. Cantwell, Government Affairs Division

Congress has passed the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act (PDF), and President Clinton is expected to sign the legislation into law soon.

This legislation, which basically codifies a guidance issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in November 1999, is designed to reduce the incidence of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens from accidental injuries involving contaminated needles or other "sharps."

An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 needlestick and other percutaneous injuries occur annually among health care workers. Through technological advancements, this number is expected to decrease.

The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act requires OSHA-regulated facilities to identify, evaluate, and use safer medical devices. The legislation emphasizes the need for employers to involve workers exposed to sharps injuries in the evaluation and selection of safer devices. In addition, the legislation mandates that facilities maintain a log of all needlestick injuries and analyze methods for reducing or eliminating these injuries. The legislation does not favor the use of a particular device but requires an employer to evaluate the effectiveness of available devices.

Exceptions to the device requirements would be permitted if an employer shows that no appropriate device is available, the available devices are not more effective than currently used alternatives at preventing workers’ exposure to bloodborne pathogens, or there is insufficient information about the safety of available devices.

The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC) and in the Senate by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Harry Reid (D-NV). The legislation garnered widespread bipartisan support among members of Congress as well as the health care industry.