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Sharps Handling

Image of Needle

Safe sharps handling can protect you and the personnel who collect your lab’s waste if you follow a few simple rules. Sharps are defined as items capable of causing percutaneous wounds or breaks in the skin. Examples of sharps include hypodermic needles; syringes; surgical needles; Pasteur pipettes; scalpels; capillary pipettes; razor blades; contaminated (with biohazardous materials) glass slides, cover slips, and broken glassware.

Understand Risk 

An accidental injury can result in increased risk when handling sharps with human materials, viral vectors, cancer cells, pathogenic agents, or biological toxins. It is important to take into account the agents being handled, and tools used when performing a risk assessment.

Reduce Risk

  • Substitute plasticware for glassware whenever possible.
  • Limit the use of sharps to when no other alternatives are available
  • Use Luer Lock – Use Luer lock syringes and needles or units where the needle is integral to the syringe to prevent the needle from slipping off.
  • Use Safety Engineered Sharps – When possible, use safety engineered sharps. These sharps have built-in safety features like retractable needles or sheaths that cover the needle or scalpel when you’re done.

Best Practices

  • Lock them up – Stocks of both needles and syringes, even if stored separately, are required to be under lock and key when not in use.
  • Keep in Full View - when in use, sharps always need to be kept in full view and if possible, only one should be handled at a time.
  • Within Arm’s Reach (W.A.R.) - Dispose of sharps directly, without manipulation, in an approved sharps disposal container (i.e., do not bend, shear, break, recap, or use hands to remove needles from syringes or blades from scalpels). Maintain sharps disposal containers W.A.R. (including inside a biosafety cabinet).
  • Safe transport – Use secondary containers to transport your sharps from Point A to Point B, particularly in public areas.
  • Alternatives to Recapping - Rather than recapping the needle or leaving a scalpel exposed, place it in a clean conical tube if it needs to be set it down.
  • Understand proper waste streams – Syringes and needles must be disposed of in designated red sharps containers. These containers can be purchased online through e-SHOP.

 Things to Avoid

Image of appropriate re-capping method
Single Handed Scoop Method
  • Do not recap –Recapping needles is one of the easiest ways to accidentally have a needlestick occur. However, if recapping must be done, there are safe recapping techniques.

    • Receive permission from your PI and training from EHS Biosafety, or from CARE if animals are involved

    • Use one of the following two methods: 1) one handed scoop technique, or 2) forceps or tongs to place the cap on the needles

  • Do not centralize your sharps bins– Rather than keeping one large single sharps bin in the middle of the room, keep a smaller one at each station so you don’t have to walk around with the needle to dispose of it.
  • Do not use your hands - Handle broken glass or other sharps with a secondary device such as forceps, crucible tongs, pieces of cardboard, or broom and dustpan- not your hands 
  • Do not guess – Follow the Lab Waste Guide to determine if your sharps waste should be disposed of as a biohazard, a chemical hazard, or in a broken glass bin.
  • Do not bag it – Never place sharp objects in a bag, which can poke through and cause leaks or poke someone.
    Needle breaking through a red Biohazardous Bag
    This needle was disposed incorrectly and resulted in the injury of a custodian who was handling the waste

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