OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 35 Health Care and Industries with Biological Hazards

Section 525.2 Medical sharps

Subsections 525.2(1), 525.2(2) and 525.2(3)

Safety-engineered medical sharps

The requirements of subsections (2) and (3) come into effect on July 1, 2010. This delayed effective date is intended to provide employers with sufficient time to establish budgets, assess and select appropriate safety-engineered devices, change workplace policies and practices, and train workers.

A “safety-engineered medical sharp” is a medical sharp that is designed to, or has a built-in safety feature or mechanism that eliminates or minimizes the risk of accidental parenteral contact while or after the sharp is used; parenteral contact means piercing mucous membranes or the skin.

Specially designed medical sharps e.g. hollow-bore needles, suture needles, scalpels, etc. reduce the risk of needlestick injuries and other puncture wounds from contaminated sharps. Self-sheathing needles have a built-in sheath or sleeve that extends to cover the needle. Retractable syringes are designed so the needle can be pulled up inside the syringe.

Needleless systems use threaded ports on IV tubing, so healthcare workers can remove the needle from the syringe after drawing up medication, and then simply screw the syringe directly into the port. Disposable safety scalpels have a built-in sheath that covers the blade between use and disposal, and suture needles for sewing tissues other than skin are available with blunted tips.

Alberta’ OHS Act defines a work site as a location where a worker is, or is likely to be, engaged in any occupation and includes any vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in an occupation. Examples of work sites where subsections (2) and (3) may apply include, but are not limited to,

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulances
  • Homecare sites where a community health nurse visits
  • Blood collection clinics
  • Correctional institutes
  • Dental offices
  • Medical and dental laboratories
  • Health clinics, including those located in industrial facilities
  • Outpatient facilities (including renal dialysis clinics and cancer treatment centres)
  • Hemodialysis centres
  • Drug treatment centres
  • Hospices
  • Residential care facilities
  • Assisted living residences
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Naturopaths’ offices
  • Acupuncture clinics
  • Tattoo parlours

Despite subsection (2), there are times when a safety-engineered medical sharp cannot be used because its use is not clinically appropriate or the required safety-engineered sharp is unavailable in commercial markets. The person who determines that use of the required safety-engineered medial sharp is not clinically appropriate should have the clinical knowledge and experience necessary to make that assessment. This person should also have expertise in the procedure in question, as well as knowledge of the devices that are commercially available for the procedure. The reasons why the device required under subsection 525.2(2) is not clinically appropriate should be well documented for each procedure or type of procedure where that determination is made. In some situations it may be clinically appropriate to use the required device even though its use in turn requires modification of a medical procedure.

The person determining that the required safety-engineered sharp is not available in commercial markets should have similar clinical knowledge and a comprehensive knowledge of what products are commercially available.

Subsections 525.2(4), 525.2(5) and 525.2(6)

Safe work procedures and training

The employer must establish safe work procedures for the use and disposal of medical sharps if a worker is required to use or dispose of a medical sharp. The procedures must include a discussion of
(a) the hazards associated with the use and disposal of medical sharps,
(b) the proper use and limitations of safety-engineered medical sharps, and
(c) procedures to eliminate accidental contact with medical sharps.

Additional relevant information can also be included as necessary.

As required by section 8 of the OHS Regulation, the safe work procedures must be in writing and available to workers. The purpose of the procedures is to limit the possibility of workers coming into contact with medical sharps that could cause a cut or puncture wound. Workers must be trained in the safe work procedures so that the procedures are understood and followed.

Workers are required to use and dispose of medical sharps in accordance with the training they have received.