Washington, D.C. - Senate Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee Chairman, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has teamed up with Republican and Democrat, Senate and House Colleagues on a bill that would help nurses, and other healthcare workers stay healthy themselves.
Enzi, along with Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., James Jeffords, R-Vt., Jack Reed, D-R.I. and Reps. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C. and Major Owens, D-N.Y. have introduced the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act in both Houses. The legislation would encourage hospitals and other healthcare facilities to use the best technologies to prevent healthcare professionals who work with needles from being exposed to blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
"I am proud to be a part of legislation which will save lives and help stop the spread of bloodborne diseases," said Enzi. This bill is an important step for safety in the workplace. I hope it will bring some peace of mind to the more than 8 million workers who perform the vitally important service of providing health care in this country."
The Centers for Disease Control estimated that as many as 800,000 healthcare workers accidently are stuck with needles each year. The needlestick bill Enzi is working to pass would provide instruction to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to amend its blood-borne pathogen standard to make certain employers evaluate their workplaces and use medical devices such as needleless systems and retractable needles where appropriate. The bill would change OSHA's standard from an agency directive to a law, giving it more weight.
"The best way to ensure worker safety is to combine simple and clear regulations with incentives for employers, employee involvement and emphasis by OSHA on
training and education. I am hopeful that this and other similar initiatives I've worked on can become a model for reforming OSHA's current reactive enforcement approach to one that is more geared to preventing workplace accidents," said Enzi.
Enzi believes that the broad support the bill enjoys may make it possible to become law this year even during these final hours of the legislative session.-end- (Enzi's full statement is attached.)
Senator Mike Enzi's Statement for the Introduction of S. 3067
Mr. President, I am pleased to be part of the introduction today of S. 3067, a bi-partisan bill to provide protection for our nations health care workers against accidental needlesticks and sharps injuries. I want to acknowledge and commend my colleagues Senators Jeffords, Kennedy and Reed in the Senate and the Honorable Mr. Ballenger and Honorable Major Owens in the House for their work on this important safety issue.
Since the mid-1980s, injuries to health care workers from needles or other "sharps," such as IV catheters or lancets, have presented an increasingly troubling issue. As the spread of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C has escalated over the last 15 years, so has the danger to health care workers of contracting one of these diseases through sharps contaminated with bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Even where the injured worker does not ultimately contract a bloodborne disease, the uncertainty and fear of infection created by such injuries can be excruciating and destructive to the lives of the injured health care workers.
In response to this problem, in 1991 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or "OSHA," issued a standard requiring workplace safety measures to be used to protect against occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. This was a laudable step in the fight against worker infection, and its implementation brought a reduction in the risk of contracting a bloodborne disease in the workplace. The success of this measure, however, was limited by the effectiveness of the safety technology available at the time, and occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens from accidental sharps injuries has continued to be a problem. In March 2000, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 needlesticks still occur among health care workers annually.
Fortunately, since the publication of the bloodborne pathogens standard there has been a substantial increase in the number and assortment of new medical devices, such as needless systems and retractable needles, that protect against needlesticks. Numerous studies have shown that the use of these safer devices, as part of an overall bloodborne pathogen risk reduction program, can be extremely effective in reducing accidental sharps injuries.
The legislation we introduce today will ensure that these safer devices are used, and lives will be saved as a result. The bill provides narrowly tailored instruction to OSHA to amend its bloodborne pathogen standard to make certain that employers understand they must identify, evaluate, and, where appropriate, make use of these safer medical devices to eliminate or reduce occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. OSHA issued similar instructions in a compliance directive published December 1998. Because OSHA's directive is merely agency guidance and does not have the force of law, however, I felt it was important that both employers and employees be given formal regulatory instruction on this vitally important safety issue.
This legislation provides this security and improves protection for employees while still allowing employers the necessary flexibility to determine the best technology to use in the particular circumstances presented. This legislation even goes a step further to ensure that employers will have valuable input from the front line employees when it makes these determinations.
This bill is an important step for safety in the workplace, and I hope it will bring some peace of mind to the more than 8 million workers who perform the vitally important service of providing health care in this country. I am extremely proud to be a part of legislation which will save lives and help stop the spread of bloodborne diseases.