Full text 
Verbatim report of proceedings
Thursday, 11 February 2010 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Framework Agreement on prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector (debate)

  Stephen Hughes, author. − Mr President, this is an important piece of health and safety legislation. Liz has outlined some of the background to it. It has been a long time in the making – six years from the first meetings we had, as she has mentioned. It is good to see Commissioner Andor here this morning, but it is a pity, in a way, that Commissioner Špidla is not here. We have often criticised him here in this Chamber, but we could have congratulated him this morning for eventually taking the initiative to bring forward this proposal on needle-stick injuries, sharps injuries.

We took a while to persuade him to act. His services, in fact, were the people who kept advising that he should not act, that the directive agreed in 2000 on the protection of workers from the risks arising from exposure to biological agents, combined with the risk assessment elements of the 1989 framework directive, were enough to prevent these sorts of injuries, but eventually we persuaded those services that, with one million injuries per year, clearly something was wrong. We needed specific legislation to address this problem, as they have in the United States and in parts of Spain, and it works there very effectively.

Eventually the Commissioner agreed to act and in 2008, as Liz has said, did draft an amendment to the 2000 directive, but then HOSPEEM and EPSU, the public service unions, signalled their desire to formulate an agreement. They formulated that agreement. I am glad that they have. It is a good agreement, but it is a little ambiguous in certain parts. This is why I have tabled an amendment which has been agreed in the Employment Committee, to seek the publication by the Commission of guidance to accompany the directive to ensure the smooth and uniform transposition of this directive into law in all Member States.

We fully support the Commission’s proposal for a directive, and we understand that the agreement from the social partners cannot be touched. We cannot amend it. Council cannot amend it. It is their agreement. However, the most important part of the agreement, clause 6, which covers elimination, prevention and protection, unfortunately includes some ambiguity regarding risk assessment and precisely which preventative elements need to be implemented by employers and when.

If this ambiguity is not clarified, then we risk seeing dramatic variability in the application of the directive. It is for this reason that we are requesting that the Commission produce implementation guidelines to aid employers’ understanding of the risks and necessary preventative measures to ensure a consistent application of the directive.

Needle-stick injuries are the most common and most dangerous form of medical sharp injuries. Whenever a hollow-bore needle is used on a patient there is a risk of a needle-stick injury that could lead to a serious infection of a healthcare worker because the hollow-bore acts as a reservoir for the patient’s blood or other body fluids.

There is a huge body of independent evidence that has proven that the introduction of improved training, safer working practices and the use of medical devices incorporating safety-engineered protection mechanisms will prevent the majority of needle-stick injuries. All of these things are necessary, not just one or two – all of those things are necessary.

Studies have also demonstrated that failure to implement any one of these three elements results in a significantly reduced impact. Similarly, attempts to implement safety-engineered medical devices only in certain areas or on certain patients would be neither practical nor effective.

In those countries where there is existing effective legislation such as America, Canada and parts of Spain, it is clearly mandated that all three of these elements must be implemented to prevent needle-stick injuries. It is no coincidence that all are the same in this respect. So that is the ambiguity in clause 6 that we are seeking to overcome through the publication of guidance.

Liz has mentioned the trauma that people affected by needle-stick injuries face. I have met people during the six years that we have worked on this subject who have suffered needle-stick injuries, and I would really emphasise that trauma. I met a doctor who gave up medical practice because of a needle-stick injury. I met a person who has HIV as a result of a needle-stick injury. I have met people who turned out not to be infected, but only after months of uncertainty as to whether they were infected or not. I have also met garbage collectors and prison officers who have suffered needle-stick injuries. They are not covered by this agreement. That is another area that we need to think about for the future.

Nevertheless it is a good agreement, and I think if we have good guidance to accompany it to ensure uniform application across the European Union, we will all have done a good job and hopefully we will radically reduce that figure of one million needle-stick injuries per year.

Legal notice - Privacy policy