Healthcare employers have until July 17 to establish a process for involving employees in the selection of safer sharps devices and to begin logging injuries from contaminated sharps.
New federal legislation designed to prevent such injuries became effective on April 18, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it won't enforce new requirements for 90 days.
Besides mandating the two actions, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, signed last year by President Clinton, clarifies a 10-year-old bloodborne pathogens standard that requires healthcare providers to use devices that eliminate or minimize workers' chance of being stuck by needles.
In 1991, OSHA issued the pathogen standard, and in 1999, it issued a compliance directive that ordered healthcare facilities to use needleless systems when possible and to otherwise use only safety-engineered sharps devices. The act makes the 1999 compliance directive law.
Except for the provisions requiring worker involvement and an injury log, the new law doesn't change OSHA's expectation of healthcare facilities.
OSHA can levy fines as high as $70,000 per incident for failure to comply with the bloodborne pathogens standard.
From 600,000 to 1 million healthcare workers are accidentally stuck by needles each year, according to the Service Employees International Union, and more than 1,000 people annually contract a serious infection from needlestick injuries.
OSHA will conduct outreach and education, including making material available on its Web site, during the next 90 days before enforcing the new mandates.
For manufacturers, the regulations are a boon. Helped partly by U.S. sales of safety-engineered needles and devices, for example, BD of Franklin Lakes, N.J., reported its highest quarterly revenue ever, at $961 million, or 4% more than the 2000 first quarter. But BD's net income fell 0.7% to $118 million, or
44 cents per share. The company, which reported its earnings the day after the regulations came out, said it expects income to grow by double digits annually as U.S. hospitals continue to convert to safety devices.
-With Cinda Becker