Sharps Safety

General Safety Guidelines for Use of Sharps

A high degree of precaution must always be taken with any sharp items used in the laboratory, including needles, glass slides and cover slips, Pasteur pipettes, capillary tubes, and scalpels or other blades. Two of the most common causes of needlesticks are re-capping needles and improper disposal of needles. All needlesticks, and other sharps injuries, carry the risk of exposure to the needle's content and/or contamination on the outside of the needle or other sharp instrument, as well as the risk of secondary infections.

Needles and syringes or other sharp instruments should be restricted for use only when there is no alternative, such as parenteral injection, phlebotomy, or aspiration of fluids from diaphragm bottles. Plastic ware should be substituted for glassware whenever possible.

Sharps usage must be reviewed annually. Can a procedure be modified so that a sharp is not needed? Is there a safety engineered sharp available? Syringes which re-sheathe the needle, needle-less systems, and other safety devices should be used when possible. Always request safety engineered sharps from vendors. See the following links for more information on safety-engineered sharps:

Needle/syringe usage may also present a risk of exposure to infectious agents or other hazardous materials via spray and aerosols — particularly from non-needle-locking syringes. Use needle-locking syringes (luer-lock) for all needle/syringe applications. This includes injections, filtration, transfer to liquids, and loading columns. Use of needle-locking syringes will also prevent the loss of valuable samples.

Procedure-specific handling and disposal of sharps must be included in your lab's written Lab Safety Manual or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Do not purchase needle/syringe units. This will prevent disposal of unused wrong-sized needles.

Sharps Handling Procedures

  • Needles must not be bent, sheared, broken, recapped, removed from disposable syringes, or otherwise manipulated before disposal
  • Do not pick up broken glass with hands—use mechanical means such as a brush and dustpan, tongs, or forceps
  • If there is no alternative to re-using a needle/syringe for a specific procedure, such as the need for giving more that one injection with an anesthetic or multiple injections of a limited quantity material, you must document this in your laboratory SOPs and employ one of the following methods:
    • First choice should be a re-sheathing needle. These are available in both automatic re-sheathing styles (e.g., Sterimatic), or a re-usable, retractable guard-style (e.g., Gettig). The Gettig device guard can be pushed back over the needle after filling the syringe for transport or storage and pulled down to allow unobstructed needle usage for multiple injections.
    • Second choice is to use a simple and inexpensive mechanical device to safely hold caps while re-capping. The device from Medi-Dose sits on a bench top and holds the cap while the needle/syringe is inserted. Twist the needle/syringe to remove from the device.
    • If the above re-sheathing or mechanical re-capping devices do not work for an application, the one-handed scoop method may be used. Documentation must demonstrate that the above mentioned techniques cannot be implemented. Avoid re-capping the needle by placing the needle/syringe in a tray or other protective container for transportation or storage between injections.

Sharps Disposal

  • Sharps containers may never be placed in the normal waste stream or used for any purpose other than sharps disposal
  • Do not remove needles from syringes or recap needles before placing in sharps container
  • Use leak-proof, puncture-resistant sharps containers properly labeled by the supplier
  • Promptly dispose of all sharps in sharps container immediately after use
  • Place sharps containers within easy reach of work stations where sharps are generated, and never fill containers more than ¾ full
  • Use a size and shape container that will allow the sharp to freely and completely enter the container
  • Close and seal the top of containers before placing next to regular trash for pickup by custodians
  • Custodians are trained to pick up sharps containers directly from labs. Do not place sharps containers in hallway or other public areas for pickup

The Biological Waste Disposal Table provides a list of items to be disposed of as sharps, as well as additional sharps and broken glass disposal information.

Spray and Aerosol Prevention

Sprays or aerosols may be generated if a needle disengages from a syringe. You must use needle-locking syringes or disposable syringe-needle units (i.e., needle is integral to the syringe) for injection or aspiration of infectious material to prevent exposure to sprays and aerosols. This includes injections, filtration, transfer of liquids, and loading columns. Use of needle-locking syringes will also prevent the loss of valuable samples. One cc syringes are now available with needle locks or permanently attached needles.