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Health and safety of healthcare staff

Workers employed in the health care sector have to deal with a wide range of activities and environments that pose a threat to their health and put them at risk of occupational disease or work-related accidents. This section provides detailed information about such risks and effective methods of assessing and eliminating or minimising them.

Many of the settings in which health care workers carry out their jobs and the multiplicity of tasks they perform can present a great variety of hazards.  The healthcare sector is large, employing around 10% of all workers throughout the European Union. More than three quarters of them are women.

The nature of their work, whether delivering frontline care for the physically or mentally impaired, or handling patients or providing cleaning services, makes it absolutely vital that health and safety is a priority in this sector. Yet European data show that the proportion of healthcare workers considering that their health and safety is at risk because of work they do is higher than the average across all sectors in the EU. In particular, exposure to threats of physical violence and actual acts of violence from colleagues and non-colleagues is highly prevalent compared to other sectors.

The range of risks faced by health workers includes:

  • Biological risks such as infections caused y needlestick injuries
  • Chemical risks including drugs used in the treatment of cancer and disinfectants
  • Physical risks such as ionising radiation
  • Ergonomic risks, for example, patient handling
  • Psychosocial risks including violence and shift work

This section offers, among other things, case studies, examples of good practice and checklists to help those who are dealing with health and safety at the workplace assess possible risks and monitor safety processes.

Prevention from sharp injuries at the workplace


Workers in the healthcare sector are at risk from needlestick or sharp injury. Such injuries are of concern as the worker may become infected by blood-borne pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms).

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and hepatitis B (HBV) or C (HCV) are the commonest risks, but there are more than 20 blood-borne diseases that may be transmitted.

In Europe, it is estimated that there are 1 million needlestick injuries annually. It is not just medical professionals who are at risk. While nurses working in acute medical situations are identified as being at the highest risk, many other workers have the potential to sustain these injuries. For example, auxiliary staff such as cleaners and laundry staff can also be at significant risk.


The EU Directive to prevent sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector


To address this problem a directive 2010/32/EU was adopted. This directive implements the Framework Agreement on prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector signed by the European social partners HOSPEEM (the European hospital and healthcare employers' association) and EPSU (the European Federation of Public Services Unions).

The objective of the directive is to achieve the safest possible working environment by preventing injuries to workers caused by all medical sharps (including needlesticks) and protecting workers at risk in the hospital and healthcare sector.

This can be achieved by putting in place the following preventive and protection measures:

- eliminating the unnecessary use of sharps
- providing medical devices
- incorporating safety-engineered protection mechanisms
- implementing safe systems of work
- implementing safe procedures for using and disposing medical sharps
- banning the recapping
- using personal protective equipment
- vaccination
- information and training.


EU-OSHA good practice information about prevention and protection in the healthcare sector



- E-fact 40 - Risk assessment and needlestick injuries

- E-fact 35 - Risk Assessment for Care Workers

- Factsheet 41 - Biological agents

- Expert forecast on Emerging Biological Risks related to Occupational Safety and Health

Case studies

- Needlestick — how to prevent needlestick injuries effectively

- Keeping our healthcare workers healthy - Prevention of blood-transmitted infections

Risk assessment tools

- WHO - Policy Checklist for Bloodborne Exposure Control

- Needlestick injuries (a guide and checklist)

useful links



Further information about the prevention of Sharps Injuries at the workplace


  • A guidance document prepared by the European Biosafety Network.


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