What is the difference between Engineering Controls, Sharps with Engineered Sharps Injury Protections and Work Practice Controls?
16 Apr 2012

In order to design an optimum Sharps Injury Prevention programme it is important to understand the difference between the three terms so as to identify sharps injury prevention solutions.

US OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens standards - 29CFR defines them as :

Engineering Controls means controls (e.g., sharps disposal containers, self-sheathing needles, safer medical devices, such as sharps with engineered sharps injury protections and needleless systems) that isolate or remove the bloodborne pathogens hazard from the workplace. 

Sharps with Engineered Sharps Injury Protections means a nonneedle sharp or a needle device used for withdrawing body fluids, accessing a vein or artery, or administering medications or other fluids, with a built-in safety feature or mechanism that effectively reduces the risk of an exposure incident.

Work Practice Controls means controls that reduce the likelihood of exposure by altering the manner in which a task is performed (e.g., prohibiting recapping of needles by a two-handed technique). Or as the Europeans define it- Safe Systems of Work - specifying and implementing safe procedures for using and disposing of sharp medical instruments and contaminated waste.  These procedures shall be regularly reassessed and shall form an integral part of the measures for the information and training of workers.

Since 2001 the revised OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen includes Sharps with engineered sharps Injury protections as part of Engineering Controls, but it is important to know the difference in order to design an optimum Sharps Injury Prevention programme and to identify the risks, and therefore the opportunities, for sharps injury prevention.  This is especially true from a European standpoint where the distinctions are not as clearly made.

Examples of Engineering Controls relating to prevention of scalpel blade injuries would include the use of sharps disposal containers ( yes, scalpels with engineered sharps injury protections should also be disposed off in sharps disposal container) and the use of ultrasonic cleaners for cleaning reusable scalpel handles.

Examples of Sharps with Engineered Sharps Injury Protections are Round-tip scalpel blades, reusable scalpel handles that allow touch-free removal of blade as well as disposable scalpels with retractable blades or protective guards. Please see SAFhandleTM Safety Scalpel Product Evaluation Form

Examples of Work Practice Controls/Safe Systems of Work would be- not recapping the plastic guard of a disposable scalpel or storing or reprocessing reusable scalpel handles in a manner that does not require the employee to reach by hand into containers. Studies have shown that no-hands-pass work practice control procedure  incorporating the use of a passing tray or neutral zone have been very effective in reducing sharps injuires.

A combination of the three, Engineering Controls, Sharps with Engineered Sharps Injury and Work Practice Controls/Safe Systems of Work combined with Training, will provide the maximum protection against the risk of scalpel blade injuries.