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Infection prevention and control guidelines

7. Sharps

Safe sharps handling practices

      1. Safe sharps handling practices

Last revised: 18 Aug 2023

Safe sharps handling practices

Sharps injuries can be significantly reduced when the person who is using or generating the sharp takes responsibility for its safe management and immediately disposes of it into an appropriate container at the point of use (Table 7.1. Essentials of safe sharps management).


Sharps containers must meet current relevant standards and must be:

  • mounted (eg on a wall or trolley) to prevent movement during use and to prevent tipping, and
  • placed so that they are at an accessible height for the healthcare worker, with the opening of the container visible, but out of reach of children and others, to prevent hands and fingers entering the disposal unit (approximately 1300 mm or more off the ground).

Place sharps containers at the point of care.

To minimise the risk of incorrect disposal, sharps containers could be positioned away from general waste bins. They could be positioned so that no other bin or skip can be placed underneath, to reduce the risk of sharps dropping into other containers during disposal.

A wide-necked sharps container must also be available for any sharps that must be collected by brush and pan, such as shattered glass.

Avoid the use of reusable scalpel handles in favour of disposable sterile single-unit scalpel blades and handles. However, if they are used, blade-remover sharps containers must be used.


Instruments – never fingers – must be used to grasp needles, and load/unload needles and scalpels.

Staff must not pick up needles or blades directly with their hands, pass a sharp directly to another person, or leave an undisposed sharp exposed.

Staff should develop and practice safe protocols for working together when sharps are present.

Exercise standard precautions when managing dropped sharps, including wearing gloves. Use tongs, artery forceps or a brush and pan and immediately place the sharp in a sharps container using a retrieval method that minimises the risk of exposure. Empty sharps containers should be available for this purpose; staff should bring the sharps container to the site of a dropped sharp item, not carry the item to a wall-mounted or trolley-mounted sharps container unless immediately alongside.

Needles mounted on syringes can be carefully picked up by the attached syringe while wearing gloves, pointing needle away from the body and bringing sharps container to the sharp to avoid carrying the unit any distance.

Table 7.1. Essentials of safe sharps management

Do

Think about safe disposal before generating sharps. Sharps are disposed of at the point of use.

Minimise handling of sharps. Strategically placed sharps containers must be immediately available in all areas where sharps are generated – no more than 1–2 metres travel should be needed.

Accept responsibility for the safe disposal of sharps. The person who generates sharps is responsible for its safe disposal.

Set up a neutral zone for sharps. Designate an area where sharps may be placed and retrieved exclusively (‘neutral zone’). This practice reduces the incidence of percutaneous injuries and blood exposures by reducing the occurrence of hand-to-hand transfer of sharp instruments.

Dispose of sharps correctly. Ensure that sharps are immediately placed into an approved sharps container at the point of use. Place disposable surgical sharps used during a procedure into a puncture-proof container (eg a colour-coded kidney dish), tray, or suture needle holder located in the neutral zone.

Make sure sharps containers are correctly selected, installed and managed. Ensure that sharps containers:

  • are compliant with Australian standards
  • are positioned so that the opening is clearly visible by the health professional when disposing of sharps, to avoid accidental injury from protruding sharps
  • are placed out of the reach of children
  • are properly mounted (eg on a wall or trolley) to prevent falling over
  • are closed and replaced as appropriate
  • are not over-filled.

Make sure scalpel blade removers are securely mounted to the wall or trolley.

Lock/seal and store full sharps containers safely until collected.

Don’t

Don’t re-cap, remove, bend or break/clip used needles. Most sharps injuries occur when attempting to manipulate a used needle.

Don’t handle scalpel blades. When loading scalpel blades (if disposable units not used), use artery forceps to hold the blade. When removing used blades, use a wall-mounted, approved scalpel blade removal device.

Don’t pass sharps directly from hand to hand.

Don’t overfill sharps containers (ie do not fill above the fill line). The practice of compacting sharps by shaking the container without the lid on, or forcing more sharps into an already full container can lead to a sharps injury.

Don’t reopen a full sealed sharps container. Attempting to reopen a full container can lead to a sharps injury.

Don’t hold ‘hands free’ scalpel removal devices by hand. Mount according to the manufacturer’s instructions securely (eg on a wall or trolley) and do not remove for replacement until the full bin is locked/sealed.

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