You might suffer a needlestick or sharps injury by getting hurt with a sharp object that is dirty or contaminated. This can be particularly dangerous for employees in healthcare, cleaning or waste disposal industries.
The puncture wounds from sharps injuries are usually minor but could expose the victim to dangerous blood viruses like tetanus, HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Contracting an infectious disease can have a devastating impact on your life, and the lives of your loved ones.
Even if you avoid infection, a close call can have a strong emotional and psychological impact on your mental health. The stress and anxiety experienced while waiting for your test results could cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in extreme situations, affecting your work and daily life.
The Royal College of Nursing has stated that within the NHS, more than 100,000 needlestick related injuries are reported each year, while many more go unreported. According to recent surveys, more than 9 out of 10 surgeons experienced a sharps injury at least once in the operating theatre.
The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 state the actions your employer must take in order to ensure that risks from sharps injuries are properly assessed and controlled. If your employer breached their duty of care and you suffered an injury, you might be able to make a needlestick injury claim.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a claim and answer any questions you may have.
What is a needlestick injury claim?
You might suffer a needlestick injury at any time while using, dismantling or disposing of a needle. If not disposed of correctly, these can end up in rubbish bins or bags, putting the hospital staff, patients and visitors at risk.
Besides healthcare professionals, tattoo artists, cleaners, farmers, construction and refuse workers are also at high risk for sharps injuries. If the surface penetrating the skin contains traces of blood, bodily fluids or other contaminants and gets into contact with your own blood, you might become infected with a disease.
Hospitals and other workplaces that handle potentially contaminated sharp objects need to have proper regulations in place to control the risk of injuries. These include avoiding the unnecessary use of sharps, preventing the recapping of needles and placing containers and instructions for safe disposal near the work area.
All personnel should be suitably instructed on the correct use and disposal of needles and other sharp objects and receive protective clothing or equipment when necessary.
If employers or personnel members fail in their duty of care to keep you safe from harm, you might be entitled to claim needlestick injury compensation. A personal injury solicitor will help you receive compensation for all the damages you suffered after your accident.
Can I make a needlestick injury claim?
If your skin was punctured by a needle, scalpel or another sharp object, you might be at risk for an infectious disease. This can put a lot of mental strain on you, and contracting a disease could forever change your life.
Needlestick injuries most often happen through accidents at work. You might be eligible to claim if:
- You were diagnosed with a disease or injury after a sharps injury in the last three years
- Your injury was due to somebody else’s negligence
You could seek needlestick injury compensation either as:
A medical negligence claim
If you suffered an injury because of medical negligence, you would have to prove breach of duty and causation. Breach of duty means the care you received was beneath the care standard expected from a competent healthcare professional. If this caused you an injury, you might be able to make a claim.
When someone neglects to follow the strict procedures in place to avoid a needlestick injury, the results can be catastrophic. Most accidents happen in the A&E departments and operating theatres, where the staff are particularly under stress and might forget or neglect proper protocol.
An accident at work claim
Sharps injuries at work might be due to a negligent employer who failed to follow the appropriate procedures dictated by the Health and Safety guidelines. Employees most at risk of these types of injuries include refuse workers, healthcare professionals and people who work on building sites. Regardless of your place of employment, you deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment.
Your employer might be at fault for your injury if:
- They neglected to implement appropriate safety regulations
- They failed to provide adequate training regarding the use of dangerous sharp objects
- You did not receive proper protective equipment for the job, such as protective gloves
- You were asked to do a job for which you lacked qualification
You should contact a professional solicitor as soon as possible after your needlestick injury. They can let you know if you have sufficient grounds to make a work accident claim and help you gather relevant evidence to start legal proceedings.
What are the risks of needlestick injuries?
A needlestick injury or percutaneous injury occurs when the skin gets punctured by a needle, scalpel or a similar sharp object that might be contaminated with blood-borne diseases. The wound caused by such an injury is generally negligible and might cause bleeding, tenderness and swelling at the puncture site.
The health dangers come from bacteria, protozoa and viruses you could contact through a needlestick injury. There are more than 25 viruses that could be transmitted through a sharps injury. The main blood-borne viruses of concern are:
Hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis D virus (HDV) which cause liver disease. Although most people who get hepatitis recover in a matter of weeks, about 1 in 20 people who contract the hepatitis B virus will develop a chronic infection. This could eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, a potentially life-threatening condition of the immune system. Exposed individuals should receive counselling and HIV testing for at least six months after a needlestick injury.
Besides the devastating physiological effects, sharps injuries can cause health anxiety, trauma, depression and anxiety about transmitting a disease to a sexual partner. These can severely impair an individual’s daily life and lead to self-destructive behaviour. Some people may experience long-lasting psychological effects such as PTSD.
Some types of work where employees may get into contact with blood or body fluids include:
- Prisons and detention centres
- Emergency and first aid services
- The healthcare industry
- Laboratory work
- The military
- Mortuary work
- Needle exchange services
- Waste disposal
- Tattooing and body piercing
According to Public Health England, between 2004 and 2013, there were 4,830 cases of significant occupational exposures to a blood-borne virus. There was an increase in annual incidence from 373 in 2004 to 496 in 2013. Half of them were exposed to hepatitis C, a third to HIV and 10% to hepatitis B.
Two-thirds of all injuries occurred in medical wards, operation theatres and the A&E department and 81% of injuries were sustained by doctors, nurses and other healthcare assistants.
Occupational exposure to HIV is well managed, with 97% of workers exposed to the virus starting treatment within 72 hours of exposure. There were no reports of infections with HIV during that period.
What should I do if I suffer a needlestick injury?
If you suffer a needlestick injury, there are certain procedures that can minimise the risk of contracting an infection. According to the NHS guidance, if you punctured your skin with a sharp object, you should:
- Wash the injury with plenty of soap and running water
- Encourage the wound to bleed while under running water if possible
- Do not suck or scrub the wound
- Dry the wound and cover it with something clean
- Seek urgent medical advice since you might require specific treatment, which could include:
- Antibiotic treatment if you have cellulitis, for example
- Vaccination against hepatitis B
- Post-exposure prophylaxis treatment to prevent HIV if there’s a high risk of infection
The transmission of infection depends on more factors, including your own immune system. You will likely have to undergo blood tests, with follow-ups after 3, 6 and 12 months to make certain you did not become infected.
During this period, you might suffer a lot of stress and anxiety. You might be advised to get support from the occupational health services that could advise on sick leave or get counselling for psychological support.
If you suffer a needlestick injury at work, you should immediately report it and make sure it gets recorded in the accident log book. This will serve as essential evidence if you decide to make a needlestick injury claim, along with:
- The medical reports relating to your injury
- An independent medical examination with a government-approved professional
- Your psychological assessment when appropriate
- Photos of physical damage
- Contact details of any witnesses who might have seen how you got injured
- Receipts for all the financial expenses you incurred
- Proof of lost earnings, including future losses if you need to take time off work
You could still make a claim even if you do not develop an infection after the accident. You are entitled to compensation for psychological and emotional damages and the loss of life quality you might have experienced while waiting for your blood test results.
Getting in touch with a solicitor as soon as possible after your injury is essential to secure the compensation you deserve. They will help assess liability, arrange a free independent medical exam and procure any other relevant evidence to support your claim.
What steps should be taken to reduce the risk of needlestick injuries?
Most sharps injuries occur because needles or sharp objects are not properly disposed of. A very small percentage of needlestick injury claims arise from medical negligence, with the majority involving accidents at work due to negligent procedures and inappropriate safety standards.
Healthcare professionals and workers are the main groups at risk due to the extensive amount of needles and sharp instruments used during treatments and surgeries. Other occupations with an increased risk for percutaneous injuries include waste disposal operatives, police and prison officers and medical laboratory professionals.
The Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 and The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 offer guidance for employers working with hazardous sharp objects. According to these regulations, employers should:
- Eliminate the unnecessary use of needles whenever safe and effective alternatives are available.
- Provide education about sharps injuries prevention.
- Encourage staff to report any sharps injuries.
- Investigate all sharps-related injuries to identify and control risks at the workplace.
- Publish needlestick injury statistics regularly and make sure it is available to all staff.
- Substitute traditional sharps with needles with safety features to prevent or minimise the risk of injuries.
- Encourage all personnel to avoid recapping needles unless it is absolutely required.
- Place clearly marked and secure containers close to the work area to safely dispose of contaminated waste.
- Provide adequate training regarding the use and disposal of sharps and what to do in case of an injury
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) like thick gloves, safety boots, tongs and litter pickers.
- Consider vaccination for hepatitis B and tetanus for those who might be at risk for injuries.
To protect themselves from injuries at the workplace, employees should:
- Avoid using needles whenever safe alternatives are available.
- Avoid the recapping of needles that might be contaminated.
- Bring labelled, puncture-resistant and leak-proof containers to clients’ homes for safe disposal of possibly contaminated needles and sharps.
- Immediately notify their employer of any sharps injuries.
- Seek immediate medical assistance for any needlestick injury.
- Avoid putting their hands in places they cannot see, such as pipes or drains.
- Empty and regularly replace sharps bins to prevent over-filling.
- Always be mindful during sharps procedures and work slowly and carefully.
- Never hold needles or other sharps with bare hands.
- Always follow standard procedures and general hygiene practices.
If you suffer an injury because your employer failed in their duty of care towards you, you might be able to make a needlestick injury claim. You could still be able to claim if you were partially at fault for your injury, but your compensation will likely get reduced according to your part of the blame.
How much compensation can I claim for a needlestick injury?
Getting hurt with a sharp object like a needle or scalpel that might be contaminated with blood-borne viruses and bacteria can have a devastating effect on your life. Even if you do not contract a disease, the uncertainty and worry while waiting for blood test results can severely affect you emotionally.
If your injury was due to another person who owed you a duty of care, you might be able to make a claim for needlestick injury compensation. This could cover:
- Private healthcare treatment
- Psychological therapy and counselling
- Costs of medicine and blood tests
- Lost wages if you had to take time off work, including future losses
- Long-term medical expenses you might incur if you contract a disease
- Reduced quality of life
- Physical pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Any other financial expenses you incurred
The amount of compensation you might receive depends on the severity of your injury, the psychological damages it caused you and your recovery prospects. If the defendant accepts liability for your accident, your solicitor might be able to secure interim payments to cover any immediate financial needs.
Most sharps injuries are minor puncture wounds, but the stress of contracting a disease can have a significant emotional impact on your life. In most cases, an injured individual will not contract any severe illness.
You might be entitled to the following compensation amounts:
- £1,750 -£2,000 for needlestick injuries with no complications
- £2,500 -£3,000 for sharps injuries that require post-exposure prophylaxis
- Up to £4,461 for minor penetration wounds to the hands or fingers
- £6,190 to £11,820 for moderate penetrating stab wounds
- Around £4,380 for mental anguish
- £3,710 to £7,680 for PTSD with full recovery within a year or two
- £7,680 – £21,730 for moderate PTSD with lasting effects that are not grossly disabling
- £21,730 – £56,180 for PTSD causing significant disability with better future prognosis
- £56,180 – £94,470 for severe PTSD with permanent effects preventing the victim from returning to work or functioning normally
If you were chronically infected with hepatitis C in the NHS, you could claim:
- A one lump sum of £50,000
- Regular payments of £18,912 or £28,680 a year, depending on your circumstances
- An annual winter fuel payment of £544
If you contracted an HIV infection due to an accidental needlestick injury in an NHS facility, you could get:
- A one lump sum of £80,500
- Regular payments of £28,680 a year
- Annual winter fuel costs of £544
Your solicitor will work on your behalf to secure the maximum compensation amount you are entitled to receive. To find out more about your compensation prospects, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.
Is there a time limit for making a needlestick injury claim?
The time limit to start a claim is usually three years after an accident or the date you received a diagnosis. This is known as the claim limitation date, after which your case becomes statute-barred, and you can no longer start legal proceedings for injury compensation.
There are some exceptions to the three-year limitation date, including:
If you suffered a sharps injury as a minor, a litigation friend could claim needlestick injury compensation on your behalf at any point before you turn 18. Afterwards, you will have another three years, namely until your 21st birthday, to start a claim yourself.
Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a litigation friend can make a claim on behalf of an individual who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings, without being bound by a time limit. The three-year countdown will begin if the victim regains intellectual ability.
A person might lack mental capacity due to:
- PTSD or another condition caused by high levels of stress
- Severe sleep deprivation
- An intellectual disability such as autism
- A severe mental disorder like schizophrenia or major depression
- Alzheimer’s disease or another neurodegenerative condition
If your accident was caused by faulty medical equipment, you could claim compensation within three years after the malfunction was discovered.
You can make a needlestick injury claim for an accident that happened while you were working or received medical treatment abroad, but international time limits might differ considerably between countries.
If you suffered a sharps injury in a violent attack, you could claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority within two years after the accident.
You should always contact an experienced solicitor as soon as possible after your accident. Needlestick injury claims can be very complex, especially for medical negligence. Your legal adviser might need a significant amount of time to gather all the necessary evidence to prove another party was negligent in their duty of care towards you.
Can I make a needlestick injury claim using no win no fee?
Many personal injury claims are funded with a no win no fee agreement. At the beginning of your claim, your solicitor will discuss funding options with you to find the most suitable choice.
If you do not have legal expenses insurance or another form of legal support, you can always make a no win no fee claim, as long as your solicitor believes you have a valid case with a fair chance of success.
This agreement allows you to pursue needlestick injury compensation without taking any financial risks or paying upfront solicitor fees. This usually involves taking out After the Event insurance, which covers all the legal costs you incurred if your claim turns out to be unsuccessful.
If you win the case, the defendant will have to cover most of your legal costs. You will only have to cover:
- The cost of the insurance policy
- Some basic legal fees that cannot be recovered from the other party
- A success fee that covers your solicitor’s services. The success fee cannot exceed 25% of the compensation you receive for general damages and financial losses. You will agree upon it at the beginning of your claim, so you don’t have to worry about any hidden charges.