Needles and sharps are dangerous: not just because of their pointed edges, but because of the risk of infection that comes with contaminated sharps. Sharps injuries account for 17% of accidents to NHS staff – the second most common injury category. However, this risk can be all but eliminated if sharps are handled and disposed off correctly at all times.
Sharps bins should be used to dispose of used needles and sharps. These sealed containers are vital in preventing needles or sharps from injuring or hurting somebody after they have been disposed of.
However, sharps are not only used in medical settings. If you work in a school, care home, beauty salon, or in hospitality, the management of sharps could be part of your day-to-day. If your office has a stocked staff kitchen, you will also need a sharps bin.
Anything that is sharp: snapped knives, broken crockery, broken glass and needles, should be disposed of in a sharps bin.
What are sharps?
The term ‘sharps’ is used to refer to sharp devices with points or pointed edges that can cause injury by cutting or scratching. This includes needles, syringes and lancets, scalpels, blades, scissors, broken glass, crockery or plastic, sharp knives, metal wire, retractors, pins or staples. Shards of bone or teeth are also classed as sharps.
Sharps are covered under UK health and safety legislation, which means that they should be disposed of in a certain way. Sharps will often be hazardous if they are contaminated and could pose a risk of infection – particularly if they have previously been used with blood, medication or bodily fluids. At this point, they are regarded as biohazardous material and should be disposed of accordingly.
How to dispose of sharps and needles safely
Businesses and employees should consult the Sharp Instruments in Healthcare Regulations 2013, in order to see how they should be properly disposed of.
These regulations state that used needles shouldn’t be bent or broken before disposal and that you should never try to recap a needle. Sharps should be disposed of in a sharps container immediately after use. These sharps bins should then be disposed of safely. Make sure that they are correctly labelled and not overfilled. Disposal instructions should be displayed clearly on the sharps bin.
There are three different types of sharps bins, all of them are yellow. Different lids correspond to different functions:
- Orange lid: for non-pharmaceutically contaminated sharps (sharps used for blood samples or acupuncture)
- Yellow lid: for partially discharged and empty sharps (including those contaminated with medicines or anaesthetics)
- Purple lidded containers are for cyto sharps (sharps contaminated with cytotoxic and cytostatic medicines)
Disposing of sharps and needles
Sharps and needles should be treated with care – they have the potential to hurt or injure people if not used and disposed of properly.
Depending on where you live, arrangements for disposing of sharps bins may vary. If you have a medical condition that requires the use of needles to self-medicate, your local council is responsible for collecting your sharps bin. Visit the website of your local council to find out more.
The sharps bin should not be filled past the line. When you are waiting for the sharps bin to be collected, keep it in a safe place out of the reach of children and pets.
Remember that failure to adhere to health and safety law can result in criminal prosecution. Businesses have a legal obligation to maintain a safe workplace – enforced by the Health and Safety at Work Act.