Needle-stick and sharps injuries: Can I claim?

Posted by Julia Prior on

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The 10th of May saw the introduction of an EU Directive to prevent injuries to hospital and healthcare workers from sharp instruments. Member states have until the 11 May 2013 to ensure that this is implemented into national law. With this deadline fast approaching this article looks at what the current law is and who, how and what you can claim for if you have suffered a needle-stick injury.

What is a needle-stick/sharps injury?

The Royal College of Nursing defines these in its Sharps Safety publication as injuries that involve a puncture or cut to the skin often from a needle or other medical sharp such as a scalpel.

There are two ways in which this can occur; percutaneous exposure which is where the skin is cut or penetrated or mucoctaneous exposure where the eye, inside of the mouth or the nose is contaminated by blood or bodily fluid.

If the sharp itself  is contaminated with blood there is a risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B or C or HIV.

How do they occur?

Sharps injuries can occur in many ways . They may occur at work for example if you are a Nurse, Doctor or other healthcare professional when you are carrying out procedures using sharps. Ancillary staff who work in healthcare settings or porters, laundry workers or maintanence workers may suffer an injury from a sharp that has not been properly disposed of.

What is the relevant law ?

The relevant overarching law is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This requires employers to provide a safe system of work,  equipment and training. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (2002) places a requirement on employers to assess the risk for exposure to biological hazards and reduce the risk to the absolute minimum.   The Provision of Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998) places a requirement on employers to select suitable equipment for the disposal of sharps and information on how to use  them.

There are other regulations that  impose duties on employers to provide the appropriate personal protective equipment, to provide treatment following an injury and to assess the risks of sharps injuries from activities undertaken. The Royal College of Nursing has a useful summary of these requirements which can be found in its Sharps Safety document which can be found on its website and downloaded for free.

The new EU Directive alluded to address issues that are not currently met by the Regulations already in place. This directive however only applies to healthcare workers and those in hospitals.   As a result commentators have suggested that it does not go far enough in applying to all workers.  APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) has said :

"If,  as proposed the regulations only apply to an employer whose main activity is health care, then an organisation which provides health care services in other sectors, such as aviation for instance, may be exempt from the regulations altogether. Surely this would undermine the entire point of having regulations. It is a huge disappointment that the draft regulations fall so short of the European Directive but this is the latest example of the Governments attitude towards health and safety which is more about cutting what is perceived to be red tape than ensuring people's safety."

The regulations are provisionally entitled The Health and Safety ( Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013. Much of the focus in the regulations is about prevention  of exposure, importance of risk assessments, provision of personal protective equipment, vaccinating staff at risk, training and banning the practice of recapping sharps. Various bodies including the RCN, Safer Needles Network and the Partnership for Occupational Safety and Health in healthcare have agreed advice for the NHS on preparing for the implementation of the Directive.

What can I claim for ?

If you were injured by a sharp at work then you are entitled to compensation for your physical injury and financial losses.   The extent of your physical injury will be determined by a medical report. This will have to be obtained once the results of  any  follow up blood tests following exposure are known.

If the tests are clear,  you may have suffered a period of anxiety whilst waiting for these results as well as the original physical injury. In the case of Adams v Trackwork Group Limited (2007) the claimant received a needle-stick injury when he was pricked in the leg by a discarded needle whilst working in his employers yard, he required blood tests and received the all clear from these nine months after the initial injury . He suffered emotional distress during this period developing an adjustment disorder with anxiety and then a specific phobia of needles. He required cognitive behavioural therapy. He was awarded £2500 on account of his injury which  today would amount to £3028.38.

In the case of Ratcliffe v Greater Manchester Ambulance Service NHS Trust (2004),  Ratcliffe was an ambulance technician injury whilst using a defective click whilst taking blood from a collapsed patient. That patient was confined to have HIV. The claimant was told that there was a 1 in 300 chance of her developing AIDS.  She was immediately started on triple therapy which made her feel sick. She had a period of three weeks off work . She was not able to kiss her children or partner and was given advice as regards bodily fluids.

She received the all clear 6 months from the date of the initial injury. In the interim she developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression for which she took medication. Her symptoms were expected to resolve within 15 months of the incident and she was expected to remain vulnerable for a further 5 years. She was awarded £6000 on account of her injuries which  today, is £7952.89, RPI adjusted.

In addition to compensation for your injury you are also entitled to compensation for your financial losses which may include  loss of earnings, care and assistance provided by family members, travel  expenses, prescription costs and any treatment therapy costs.

Here at BLClaims Solicitors we have acted for many over the years who have suffered needle stick injuries and been compensated.  Most have worked in hospitals or GP surgeries and the needles have not been dispensed in the appropriate manner.  There was one unusual case I recall.  It involved a mortuary technician.  A body came in and as a favour to a colleague he agreed to carry out the tests.  He was stuck whilst cleaning the equipment afterwards.   He discovered a few hours later that the deceased had AIDS and had protocol been followed, would not have been sent to their unit at all as they were not geared up to deal with infectious bodies like this.  A different procedure is followed and only specifically trained individuals could under take this work.   I remember,  the worry of possible contamination effected him greatly. He was due to get married, but the relationship broke down and he was unable to work for some considerable time.   It had a devastating impact on him.

If you have sustained a needle-stick injury at work or otherwise please do contact a specialist personal injury lawyer to determine if you would be able to bring a claim for compensation.

BL Claims Solicitors are here to help

If you would like to talk to someone and discuss a potential claim please call us on 0344 620 6600 anytime between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday, or if you would prefer you can email us at info@blclaims.co.uk

About the Author

Julia is an Associate within our Personal Injury team dealing with all types of personal injury claims mainly on behalf of claimants.

Julia Prior
Email Julia
023 8085 7316

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