Healthcare at the Sharp End

11 May 2013 saw the implementation of the Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013. This article examines the main provisions and effect of those Regulations.


11th May saw the implementation of the Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013; the means by which the UK brought the requirements of EU Directive 2010/32/EU on management of sharps in healthcare into effect.

The Regulations impose a range of new obligations on healthcare providers whose employees are at risk from sharps injuries. They do not replace existing requirements such that risk assessments under the COSSH Regulations, for example, will still apply. They are intended to enhance and build on existing laws.

The table below sets out the main provisions and their effect:



Regulations 3 & 4:

Scope of Regulations

Apply to any Healthcare Employer

  • Organisation whose main activity is the management, organisation and provision of healthcare

Apply to any Healthcare Contractor

  • Whose staff provide services for a Healthcare Employer and are exposed to risk of sharps injury and the contractor supervises staff

Only apply to work on a Healthcare Employer's premises or under authority of a Healthcare Employer, but otherwise:

  • To staff giving care to patients in their homes
  • To residential care homes where primary purpose of home is to provide healthcare
  • To student trainees where the Healthcare Employer is providing the training (as opposed to the academic institution)
  • To medical staff working in prisons or schools, where employed by a Healthcare Employer

For employees working for a contractor on non-healthcare premises the Regulations do not apply, but existing laws require risk assessment and appropriate action

Regulation 5:

Use and disposal of sharps

Use of sharps to be avoided so far as is possible

Where reasonably practicable, use safer sharps

  • ie, which incorporate features or mechanisms to prevent or minimise the risk of accidental injury
  • To decide what is reasonably practicable relevant factors include:


Whether the safer sharp might compromise patient care

Hazards the device might introduce

Ease of use

Suitability of the safety mechanism

Re-capping outlawed except where to control risk and equipment available

For non-reusable sharps, employers must provide:

  • Written instructions on disposal and
  • Suitable containers, both close to area where sharps are used.

Regulation 6:

Information and Training

Employers must provide information on:

  • Risk of injury from medical sharps
  • Legislative requirements re protection
  • Good practice
  • Vaccination
  • Support available, and

Provide training on:

  • Safe use and disposal of medical sharps
  • Use of safer sharps
  • Procedures re injuries

Regulation 7:

Recording and prevention

Employers notified of sharps injury must:

  • Record the incident
  • Investigate it
  • Take any necessary action to prevent a recurrence

Where injury involves exposure to biological agent, the employer must ensure:

  • Employee gets medical advice
  • Treatment is provided if recommended
  • Consider providing counselling

Regulation 8:

Employees' duty to notify

Employees must notify employers of sharps injuries they suffer.

For further guidance see:

  • HSE Guidance for Employers and Employees:

  • Nice Guidance CG 139 (Primary Care and Community)

Standard 1.1.1: Training in safe use and disposal of sharps

Standard Use sharps safety devices subject to risk assessment:

  • NHS Employers Guidance (The Blue Book)
  • NHS Staff Council: Occupational Health and Safety Standards

Arrangements are in place to prevent, wherever possible, occupational exposure to blood-borne viruses including prevention of sharps injuries and… the use of devices using sharps protection mechanisms.

  • HSE Guidance RR914 (2012)

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