darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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June 24, 2013

DR WASHER: To move—That this House:

(1) recognises the significant hazard to healthcare workers through needlestick, scalpel and other sharps injuries, with estimates of up to 18,000 healthcare employees suffering injuries each year;

(2) notes that these injuries present a serious health and safety risk, exposing healthcare workers to dangerous blood-borne pathogens including the Hepatitis B Virus, Hepatitis C Virus and Human Immunodeficiency Virus;

(3) is:
(a) concerned that approximately 50 per cent of needlestick, scalpel and other sharps injuries are not reported, with rates of under-reporting ranging from 40 per cent to 80 per cent; and
(b) aware that 1 in 9 nurses suffered at least one needlestick, scalpel or other sharps injury in the past 12 months;

(4) acknowledges that preventative measures can be taken to reduce injury, including the use of safety engineered medical devices which, when combined with relevant education and training, reduces the incidence of sharps injuries;

(5) notes that Australia lags behind other western countries that have mandated measures to reduce sharps injuries, such as:
(a) the United States, that signed into law more than a decade ago the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000, 106 USC 430 (2000);
(b) Canada, where 6 out of 10 provinces have Occupational Health and Safety Regulations mandating the use of safety engineered medical devices;
(c) the United Kingdom, where the Health and Safety Executive has introduced the Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments) Regulations 2013; and
(d) the European Union, that introduced Council Directive 2010/32/EU three years ago to ‘prevent blood borne infections to hospital and healthcare workers from sharp instruments’; and

(6) calls on the Government to immediately improve healthcare worker safety by bringing Australia into line with the abovementioned countries.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:15): I also welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion moved by the member for Moore dealing with needle-stick, scalpel and sharps injuries. Just like the member for Wakefield, and other speakers, I would like to commend the member for Moore—not simply for this thoughtful and well-considered motion but also for his outstanding service to this place and to the people of his electorate. For 15 years the member for Moore has made that gruelling commute as one of the original fly-in fly-out workers in our community. He has been a real champion for Western Australia. I know, as the House has heard today, how highly regarded he has been by members on both sides. I think it is a credit to the member for Moore that his inherent decency has won him many friends in this place, which is sometimes quite friendless. He is a person of great personal integrity and has the respect of members on both sides who have served with him.

The member for Moore has been prepared to swim against the tide and stand up for his own, very strong values, when it would perhaps have been easier to go with the flow of the direction his party or the coalition was taking—but I think that bravery is something that he will be well remembered for. It has been a very memorable political career, and I wish him well in the next stage of his life.

The motion before the house today is very much typical of the member for Moore. It does not surprise me that there is a great deal of compassion for others in the substance of the motion, because it highlights the very real risk to our healthcare employees through such injuries. There are estimates that up to $18,000 people per year are injured through needle-stick, scalpel or sharps injuries. The information provided to me by the member for Moore himself indicates that perhaps that figure underestimates the real impact in the healthcare workers sector—and that is despite the availability of preventative measures that can be taken to reduce injury, including the use of safety-engineered medical devices, which many people today have spoken about. When combined with relevant training and education, that has the proven capacity to reduce the incidence of sharps injuries. I fear that, as the motion indicates, Australia may have slipped behind similar nations in our efforts in this regard, and perhaps we can do better in the future.

There is also, as other members have mentioned, a less common but equally alarming incidence of sharps injuries in our communities, when discarded equipment, which may have been associated with illicit drug use, results in a needle-stick injury. The media perhaps catches onto those issues with more energy than it does the risks facing healthcare workers, but I suppose that is because of the uncertainty, the emotional anguish, the potential health implications that are all considerations in such circumstances. But, when you think about it, the healthcare workers are faced with this risk every day of the week; not just in isolated cases, as may be the case when a member of the public is injured in a recreational area or a beach. The fact that our healthcare workers are facing that potential anguish on a daily basis is something that the motion reflects and that we should consider in the chamber today.

Needle-stick and sharps injuries are one of the most common causes of physical, pathological or psychological hazards for many who work in the healthcare industry. It alarms me that it is the workers right at the frontline, particularly our nursing staff, who face the greatest risk of all. It is alarming that one in nine Australian nurses had at least one needle-stick or a sharp injury in the past 12 months—they do actually incur the highest proportion of those injuries in our community. Needle-stick and sharps injuries are associated with a substantial amount of cost beyond the emotional toll I have referred to. There is also the financial cost to the Australian healthcare system. They can also increase the morbidly and mortality risk for the injured healthcare worker due to exposure to blood-borne pathogens.

The safety of workers is something that all members are concerned about. It is not just whether you have had a background working with the unions. I think all members in this place are concerned about the safety of workers, and it is critical that this issue gets the exposure it deserves here today. As the motion indicates, it is an area of genuine concern for the parliament and one where I believe we can do better, in particular in relation to the use of the safety-engineered medical devices, given the proof we have today of them being successful in preventing such injuries in other nations.

I congratulate the member for Moore for bringing this motion to the House and I also congratulate members on both sides for speaking in favour of this important motion.




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