Campus Health and Safety
December 2015
Preventing Injury Caused by Sharp Objects
"Sharp objects" injury has been a major contributor to the University's accident statistics for the last several years.  Many of the cases were caused by broken pipettes, cutters and needle sticks when users carrying out laboratory procedures.  While all the cases reported thus far were mild in nature, the potential risks associated with sharp objects injury, especially those sharp objects contaminated with chemical, biological or radioactive materials, cannot be underestimated.
Injury caused by sharp object is by no means a unique experience to laboratory users.  It is more or less a day-to-day experience one may encounter under a household setting.  Cut by broken glass or knife, or pricked by a sewing needle is quite common and perhaps it only takes a few common senses to minimise or eliminate the risk.
The human, the tools and the environment make up the list of the most critical contributing factors that can be identified in every accident case.  It is not too hard to imagine that an accident is waiting to happen when an untrained user is trying to execute an unfamiliar procedure without sufficient practice, or when an experienced user is hurrying to finish a routine procedure.  The lack of training or practice and insufficient knowledge to adopt appropriate control measures in preventing accident occurrence play a major role in accidents involving inexperienced users. In contrary, experienced users may sometimes become less sensitive to the safety issues associated with their work when they regularly repeat similar procedures.  In either case, whether the user is a first-timer or a seasoned professional, the user is susceptible to a comparable level of risks.  Certainly, learn and practice the procedure well will help minimize the risks, but it is also essential that users should avoid performing their tasks in a rush or trying to skip steps even though they know it well.
Other than the human factor, the condition of the tools is quintessential. There is a Chinese proverb saying "to do the work well, you must first sharpen the tools".  How often do users inspect their cutter, pipette, glassware, etc., to ensure they are functioning properly or without any damages or cracks?   Damaged glassware has been regularly pinpointed as the culprit of many sharp object injury cases.  Spending a few minutes prior to each procedure on checking the tools and accessories for damages may go a long way in preventing sharp object injury. 
The general housekeeping of laboratories is another important factor which demands attention.   Injuries caused by broken sharps or uncapped needles lying on benches have been reported periodically. Knocking over glassware and causing breakage while working at a congested workstation is another typical example highlighting the need to keep working space in an orderly manner.   These injuries could have been easily avoided if the housekeeping of the benches or laboratories were maintained properly. 
Some tips for safe handling of sharps can be found in a previous Safetywise article at the following link: