Sharps are medical devices like needles, scalpels, and other tools that cut or go into the skin. Learning how to safely handle sharps is important to prevent accidental needlesticks and cuts.
Before you use a sharp object, such as a needle or scalpel, make sure you have all the items you need close by. This includes items like alcohol swabs, gauze, and bandages.
Also, know where the sharps disposal container is. Check to make sure there is enough room in the container for your object to fit. It should not be more than two-thirds full.
Some needles have a protective device, such as a needle shield, sheath, or blunting, that you activate after you remove the needle from the person. This allows you to handle the needle safely, without the risk of exposing yourself to blood or body fluids. If you are using this kind of needle, make sure you know how it works before you use it.
Follow these guidelines when you work with sharps.
- Do not uncover or unwrap the sharp object until it is time to use it.
- Keep the object pointed away from yourself and other people at all times.
- Never recap or bend a sharp object.
- Keep your fingers away from the tip of the object.
- If the object is reusable, put it in a secure, closed container after you use it.
- Never hand a sharp object to someone else or put it on a tray for another person to pick up.
- Tell the people you are working with when you plan to set the object down or pick it up.
Make sure the disposal container is made for disposing of sharp objects. Replace containers when they are two-thirds full.
Other important tips include:
- Never put your fingers into the sharps container.
- If the needle has tubing attached to it, hold the needle and the tubing when you put it in the sharps container.
- Sharps containers should be at eye level and within your reach.
- If a needle is sticking out of the container, do not push it in with your hands. Call to have the container removed. Or, a trained person may use tongs to push the needle back into the container.
- If you find an uncovered sharp object outside of a disposal container, it is safe to pick it up only if you can grasp the non-sharp end. If you cannot, use tongs to pick it up and dispose of it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Sharps safety for healthcare settings. www.cdc.gov/sharpssafety/index.html. Updated February 11, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2023.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration website. OSHA fact sheet: protecting yourself when handling contaminated sharps. www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/bbfact02.pdf. Updated January 2011. Accessed October 20, 2023.
Review Date 10/13/2023
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.