European healthcare workers at risk!

11 May 2004

European healthcare workers at risk! Eucomed International Nurses Day report

The Standing Committee of Nurses of the EU (PCN) and Eucomed, theEuropean Medical Technology Industry Association have issued a report entitled "European healthcare workers at risk" on the eve of International Nurses Day (12 May). It is estimated that 1 million needlestick injuries are suffered by healthcare workers in Europe eachyear, placing them at risk from hepatitis B,hepatitis C, HIV and many other potentially fatal bloodborne infections.

"Nurses are the front-line workers, but unfortunately they are exposed to enormous risks. We need to make sure the work environment is safer. What is good for the nurses is good for the patients", commented Ria von Bvnninghausen, President of the Standing Committee of Nurses of the EU.

Maurice Wagner, Director General of Eucomed added, "It is not acceptable that healthcare employers or workers consider the risk of infection as simply 'part of the job'. There is a great deal that can be done to reduce the risk, and there is both an ethical and a legal obligation to do so".

PCN, Eucomed and a number of other European and international professional and patient groups are calling for urgent and concrete stepsat EU level to protect healthcare workers from the potentially fatalinfections that can result from needlestick and other medical sharps injuries.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work recommends a number of applicable preventative measures, including safety training and the use of devices with safety features. Studiesshow that the implementation of such measures can reduce needlestick injuries by more than 80%.

However, European hospitals have not consistently implemented applicable measures to protect staff from needlestick injury.

To address this life-threatening issue, the implementation of the measures recommended by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work must be more directly linked to compliance with the applicable safety directives, such as by incorporating them as an annex to the Biological Agents Directive 2000/54/EC. According to this Directive, employers must assess risk, prevent workers' exposure to biological agents, or, if prevention is not technically practicable, reduce it to the lowest risk level for adequate protection by means of workplace design, engineering controlmeasures, hygiene measures and safe handling of waste.

In the USA,the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act requires, by law, that effective training and education, engineering controls and work practices are implemented to help protect healthcare workers and their patients.

Copies of "European healthcare workers at risk" have also been sent today to the EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Stavros Dimas, and EU Commissioner for Health David Byrne.'

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