Health and Safety Directorate

A-Z menu

Safer Sharps

What are sharps? 'Sharps' are needles, blades (such as scalpels) and other instruments that are necessary for carrying out healthcare work / research or teaching experiments or in every day work and could cause an injury by cutting or pricking the skin. Broken glass that has contained hazardous chemicals for example can be viewed in the same way. 

 What is a sharps injury? A sharps injury is an incident, which causes a needle, blade (such as scalpel) or other medical instruments to penetrate the skin. This is sometimes called a percutaneous injury.

 What is the risk?

Potential exposure to biological agents such as blood-borne viruses (BBV) and/or another pathogenic micro-organism / organism. This can occur where the injury involves a sharp that is contaminated with the biological agent or material that contains the agent (e.g. blood or a bodily fluid).

 The blood-borne viruses of most concern are:

  • Hepatitis B (HBV)
  • Hepatitis C (HCV)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Intentional work with biological agents can pose a greater risk when sharps are involved as concentration of the agent will be higher than in most non-intentional work.

If the biological agent has been genetically modified, the risk of the modified feature (gene) becoming functional in the body can also increase.

Poisoning; which occurs when any hazardous substance interferes with normal body functions after it is swallowed, inhaled, injected or absorbed.

 What to do if you receive a sharps injury?

First Aid procedure for contaminated sharps Injury

1. First, encourage the wound to bleed, ideally by holding it under running water. Do not suck it.

2. Wash the wound using running water and soap, but do not scrub it. If water is not immediately available continue to encourage the wound to bleed and go to the nearest toilet to wash the wound. Cleansing wipes from a first-aid kit can be used if running water is unavailable.

3. Dry the wound and cover it with a plaster or dressing.

4. Contact a Building Based First Aider or local first aider if a Building Based First Aider is not available.

5. Immediately after following the first aid procedure seek medical advice from one of the following:

a) QMUL Staff during working hours (Monday to Friday 9am to 4:30pm) should call The QMUL Occupational Health Service on 020 7882 8700 and make an appointmentGround floor Geography Building, Mile End, London. E1 4NS.

b) QMUL Medical and Dental students during working hours (Monday to Friday 8.30am-4.30pm) should contact Barts Health NHS Trust Occupational Health Service. The Health and Wellness Centre. 31-43 Ashfield Street, Royal London Hospital, E1 2AH. Needle-stick line: 07745306654 (call this number BEFORE going to department). Reception: 020 3594 6609

c) QMUL Staff and Medical and Dental students outside of working hours should go to the nearest A&E department. (Those on QMUL premises – the nearest A&E is at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel).

 How can a sharps injury be prevented? 

  • Always keep both hands behind the sharp.
  • Never re-sheath a needle.
  • Avoid leaving sharps lying around.
  • Do not bend/break needles before discarding them. 
  • Place contaminated sharps/razors in disposal containers approved to approved to BS EN ISO 23907:2012, immediately after use.
  • Close the aperture to the sharps container when carrying, to prevent spillage or tampering.
  • Lock the container when it is three-quarters full using the closure mechanism. Do not try to press sharps down to make more room.
  • Place damaged sharps containers inside a larger sharps container. Lock and label the container with premises/departmental address prior to disposal.
  • Do not place anything sharp inside a yellow hazardous waste bag.
  • Do not use makeshift containers, e.g. drinks cans, bottles, cardboard boxes, for sharps disposal. They may find their way into domestic waste, presenting a hazard to refuse workers and members of the public.
  • Do not try to retrieve items from a sharps container.
  • Do not place sharps containers on the floor, window sills or above shoulder level. They should be stored above knee level and below shoulder level.
  • Carry sharps containers by the handle, away from the body; for transport to a collection point carry on a bunded trolley.
  • Keep all sharps waste in a designated, secure area until it is collected.


QMUL Documents

Working with biological hazards 

Procedures for working with biological agents and materials 

Other Information Sources

Health and Safety Executive

Blood borne viruses in the work place

Primary Legislation

Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. 

Key Health & Safety Contacts

Biological Safety Adviser: Dr Mark Ariyanayagam

First Aid Training Lead: Suzanne Mason 

Return to top