Those who operate in the healthcare industry will be well aware of needlestick injury claims. Needlestick injuries, sometimes referred to as percutaneous injuries, which occur when a hypodermic needle (or similar device) actually punctures the skin. The initial symptoms include bleeding, swelling and tenderness at the area which has been punctured but there is the possibility of contamination with a blood-borne infection. We know that blood can transmit over 20 different diseases, which is why testing after a needlestick injury takes time and is often repeated after three months, six months and 12 months to ensure there is no infection.
While HIV tends to grab the headlines when it comes to needlestick injuries, the various forms of hepatitis are also common. Over a ten-year period, official statistics suggest that there been more than 4,830 exposures involving healthcare workers with 30% of the source patients suffering from HIV, 54% from hepatitis B and 9% from hepatitis C. The impact of various blood-borne diseases can be fatal in some circumstances although thankfully those involved in the needlestick exposures more than often receive the correct treatment to counteract any infection.
How Do Needlestick Injury Claims Start?
We know from official data that the vast majority of needlestick injuries occur in the healthcare sector. There are some instances where clinical negligence is to blame but the vast majority of incidents involve accidents at work often as a consequence of negligent working procedures for which needlestick injury claims for compensation might be started. We often talk about the duty of care that employers have to their employees, the same is true for the healthcare industry, whether private or public, and there are an array of different regulations and procedures in place to protect the workforce.
The vast majority of working environments which involve the use of needlesticks have in place various disposal procedures which are there to protect employees. In many cases it is simply the volume of needlesticks used today which is causing most concern and proving difficult to dispose of. We know from the Public Health England report that 65% of injuries occur in wards, accident and emergency departments and operating theatres. Unfortunately there are also instances of hypodermic needles finding their way into public places such as parks, toilets and alleyways often as a consequence of illegal drug-taking. The simple rule is if you find a hypodermic needle in a business area or a public place you should not touch it without the relevant protective equipment.
Over the years there have been many compensation claims for needlestick injuries and the consequences of contamination. Even though the vast majority of cases involve healthcare workers there are other areas of public and private business which have been impacted a needlestick injury at work. These include:
- Council workers.
- Police officers.
- Prison officers.
- Waste disposal operatives.
This is just a list of the more common occupations impacted by needlestick injury at work but there are many incidents which occur in everyday business. Dirty needles and contaminated needles can carry an array of diseases and while hepatitis and tetanus jabs can assist with these particular conditions, it is difficult to cover every possible infection.
Whether you work in the public sector or private sector, or you have received a needlestick injury in public, employers have a duty of care to their employees and local authorities a duty of care to their constituents. If we take a look at the employment sector there are an array of actions which can be taken to reduce the chances of a needlestick injury at work and potential contamination. These include:
- Initial training and ongoing training given to those who may come into contact with disposed needles during their working day.
- The supply of sharps bins which should be used at all times to store used needles.
- Sharps bins should be emptied on a regular basis to prevent overfilling and potential injury.
- Personal protective equipment should be made available to those working in environments where they may come across discarded needles. This can include everything from knee pads to heavy duty gloves, tongs to litter pickers and simple safety boots.
- No worker should ever be asked to handle a discarded needle without the relevant protective equipment. This in itself is a violation of an employer’s duty of care to their employees – negligence by any other name.
- Working in environments where visibility may be limited, such as cleaning drains and U bends, can present many dangers. Due to the risks of needlestick injuries and potential contamination, relevant unblocking equipment should be used rather than hands.
- Where there is an extended risk of needlestick injuries, vaccinations for hepatitis B and tetanus should be carefully considered.
Over the last few years there has been significant pressure on medical companies to replace the standard hypodermic needle with safer devices which retract after use. While this does not totally negate the potential for needlestick injuries and infection, it does go a long way to offering more protection.
Local authorities have also come under pressure to police troubled areas, such as public parks, where hypodermic needles are perhaps commonplace. The problem is, as soon as one area is cleared the drug users simply move to another area and the problem is transferred as opposed to addressed. Drug addiction drop-in facilities have attracted major controversy over the years but they do allow for the safe disposal of needlesticks.
Immediate Action Required After A Needlestick Injury
It is not possible to understate the potential dangers of a needlestick injury from a used implement. Unless the relevant medical treatment is received immediately there could be long-term potentially fatal consequences for victims. In the event of a puncture injury caused by a discarded needlestick the official advice is to:
- Gently squeeze the wound to encourage bleeding and hold the injured area under running water.
- Never suck the wound like you might with a snake bite.
- Gently wash the impacted area with plenty of soap but do not scrub the wound.
- Once washed, dry the wound and cover with a waterproof dressing or plaster.
- Seek urgent medical attention as there are medicines available which if administered immediately after the injury can fight off infection.
In reality no two needlestick wounds are the same because each person has a different natural immune system. In the event of a needlestick injury and potential contamination it is likely that your doctor will advise three-month, six-month and twelve-month blood checkups to ensure no long-term problems. It is worth noting that while exposure to potential contamination has risen over the last decade, actual infections are extremely rare.
Proving Negligence In Needlestick Injury Claims
If you have experienced a needlestick injury the first thing you need to do is seek urgent medical attention. This will ensure that the relevant antidotes and medicines are used as quickly as possible to help avoid any long-term infections. In the vast majority of needlestick exposure cases there is no resulting contamination or long-term medical problems. However, even if there has been no contamination, there is the potential to claim for psychological harm and anxiety brought about by third-party negligence. While seeking medical assistance is obviously your first port of call, this also ensures that the details of the needlestick injury are noted on your records as well as any treatment and long-term consequences. This information can prove very useful in the event that a needlestick injury compensation claim is lodged by a victim.
It is also very important to note down details of the incident, when it occurred, where it occurred and why it occurred. There may also be witnesses available to backup your version of events which can prove extremely supportive in a court of law. In reality, faced with a possible blood-borne infection this will be the last thing on a victim’s mind but it is something which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Legally there is a three-year window of opportunity to claim compensation for a needlestick injury but the longer you leave it the more distorted the facts become making it difficult to prove negligence beyond reasonable doubt.
A personal injury/medical negligence solicitor will be able to review your case notes, medical information and potential acts of negligence by an employer or other third party. If your solicitor believes you have a strong case for making a needlestick injury claim they will likely offer a No Win No Fee arrangement whereby there is no cost to the claimant other than a split of compensation, on a predetermined basis, in the event of a successful claim. This ensures that where claimants have a valid claim but perhaps lack the funds to cover legal expenses they still have an opportunity to claim.
Compensation For A Needlestick Injury
When looking at needlestick injuries there are an array of different ways in which they can occur from surgical negligence to failure to provide safety equipment, from limited training to failure to maintain a safe and clean working environment, and many more. There are two main types of compensation available for needlestick injuries which are general damages and special damages. General damages in a needlestick injury claim relate to compensation for:
- Pain and suffering endured.
- Mental trauma you’re very likely to have experienced.
- Potentially life changing injuries.
- Anxiety and/or other personality disorders.
As we touched on above, even in instances where there is a needlestick injury but no infection this can still have an impact on an individual’s life. Therefore there is the opportunity to seek compensation for mental trauma and anxiety directly brought on by the incident. There is some discretion with regards to general damages, which are considered on a case-by-case basis, although the courts and insurance companies tend to base any payouts on historic needlestick injury claims.
While there is discretion with regards to general damages, special damages in a needlestick injury compensation claim are simply financial redress for what expenses have been incurred as a consequence of the needle stick injury together with the cost of future assistance. Some of the more common issues taken into consideration include:
- Loss of earnings if you’ve been off work because of the injury.
- Future loss of earnings.
- Medical expenses.
- Future medical expenses you might incur.
- Adaptions to the home.
- Additional transport costs.
This list is by no means inclusive but it does give you an idea of the different elements of after-care. Future expenses will be estimated by experienced professionals in various fields such as medicine and all fair and accurate estimates of future costs will be considered carefully by the courts. In reality, the vast majority of needlestick injury compensation claims will be settled out of court when negligence is fairly obvious. However, they may proceed to a full court hearing when negligence is contested or more than one party was involved.
If you have been injured by a needle at work or elsewhere and would like more information on needlestick injury claims please contact us today.