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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Medical Devices

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Sharps Containers: Take These Steps To Avoid Getting Stuck

By Audrey Morrison, RN, BSN
Nurse-Consultant
Center for Devices and Radiological Health
Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, Md.

(Originally published October 1998)

While placing a lid onto a sharps container for disposal a housekeeper received a needle-stick injury. He said he had to use extra force to push the lid down because the container was overfilled.

Another housekeeper's finger was stuck when she removed a filled sharps container from a wall bracket. The needle was protruding from the front wall of the container, which was filled beyond the recommended fill line. The container held several 60-cc syringes, as well as plastic bags and disposable gloves.

What went wrong?

Sharps containers, used properly, can prevent needle-stick injuries. But used improperly, they create a serious hazard. In the examples above, various things went wrong:

  • Containers were filled past recommended levels.
  • The user forced the lid onto an overfilled container.
  • Large (60-cc) syringes were placed in a container not intended to handle them.
  • Materials other than sharps were placed into a container, preventing needles from falling to the bottom.  

What precautions can you take?

  • Pay attention to cautionary statements on sharps containers.
  • Don't exceed the recommended fill line or use containers identified for disposal.
  • Avoid forcing sharp instruments into containers.
  • Drop syringes horizontally into containers.
  • Use the containers for nothing other than sharps.
  • Before handling filled containers, check carefully for protruding sharps.
  • Replace containers as soon as they're filled.
  • Finally, education regarding needle safety and sharps containers should be available for all workers who are at risk for needle-stick injury.

Although you need to support the adverse event-reporting policy of your health care facility, you may voluntarily report a medical device that doesn't perform as intended by calling MedWatch at 1-800-FDA-1088 (fax: 1-800-FDA-0178). The opinions and statements contained in this report are those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Department of Health and Human Services. Device Errors is coordinated by Chris Parmentier, RN.