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Have Safer Needles by April '02, Says JCAHO

Kate Traynor

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is emphasizing needlestick-injury prevention as a prelude to enforcing standards related to the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act.

JCAHO devoted the August issue of its e-mail newsletter Sentinel Event Alert to a review of needlestick-injury prevention and a discussion of how organizations can comply with the act, which was signed into law in November 2000.

The act updated portions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) bloodborne pathogens standard. OSHA began enforcing the new provisions in the standard—such as requiring employers to keep a "sharps injury log"—on July 17.

JCAHO has announced that it will wait until April 2002 to survey for compliance with its new standards, which reinforce the need to comply with OSHA's standard, including taking action to prevent needlestick injuries. But Darryl S. Rich, Pharm.D., M.B.A., FASHP, JCAHO’s associate director of surveyor development and management, expects accredited organizations to be familiar with OSHA’s standard now.

"All organizations should have a needlestick prevention program in place as part of their compliance with the existing bloodborne pathogens standard," Rich said. "We survey that now, so that is not a new requirement."

"Currently, organizations should be getting staff involved in the review, selection, and recommendation of safer [needle] replacement devices," said Rich, referring to new provisions arising from the act. He also noted that the involvement of frontline staff members in the process—an OSHA requirement—is also important to JCAHO.

Rich noted that the issues raised in Sentinel Event Alert do not apply to "in-pharmacy needlesticks" that can occur during the preparation of sterile products that do not contain blood or body fluids.

According to JCAHO, its standards related to the act will be found in the "Environment of Care," "Surveillance, Prevention and Control of Infection," "Care of Patients," and Leadership" chapters of the accreditation manuals.

Accredited organizations usually have about 45 days to act upon recommendations made in Sentinel Event Alert, or, officially, 90 days from when the Alert recommendation is reprinted in Joint Commission Perspectives, JCAHO’s official newsletter. Rich said that the April 2002 starting date for surveying organizations for their approach to needlestick-injury prevention replaces and extends the usual 90-day deadline.