Needlestick injuries occur when a needle or some other type of sharp instrument, such as a blade or a scalpel, accidentally penetrates the skin and makes a puncture wound. More than 100,000 such injuries are reportedly suffered across the NHS alone every year, with many more going unreported.
Some people might think “what’s the big deal, it’s only a little prick”; and indeed, this is often the case. Sometimes, however, the consequences of a needlestick injury (also known as a “sharps” or “percutaneous” injury) can be very serious indeed if the sharp object that has penetrated the skin is contaminated in some way.
If your work exposes you to sharp objects, your employer is legally obliged to ensure that you receive the training you need to do your job safely and to make sure that safety procedures are in place to prevent you from coming to harm. If they haven’t followed health & safety laws and you suffer a needlestick injury as a result, then you may be able to seek help to make a compensation claim.
To find out whether you could claim, or for free advice, you can get in touch with a trained legal adviser on 0800 234 6438.
Contaminated sharps exposure in UK healthcare work is the most common mode of occupational exposure to blood-borne viruses (BBV), such as Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Although medical staff are the most likely category of workers to suffer a needlestick injury, employees in other sectors could be affected too as anyone can be cut or pinpricked by a contaminated needle or sharp object. Those who work in cleaning or waste disposal might be affected – especially if sharps haven’t been disposed of correctly – while those working in the agricultural or construction industry could also suffer a sharps injury, thanks to protruding nails or barbed wire, which can cause tetanus or other blood-borne viruses.
Other infections which are also capable of being transmitted through sharps injuries include:
The chances of being infected by a blood-borne viruses (BBV) through a needlestick injury depends on a number of factors, including your natural immune system, the depth of the injury, the type of sharp which caused the injury, the part of the body the sharp entered, and how infectious the patient was at the time of the injury. There is, however, a higher risk of infection from a sharps injury involving:
Although the number of needlestick injuries each year is clearly high, a relatively small number are known to have caused infections that have led to serious illness. The effects of the injury however – both physical and psychological – can have a major personal impact on an injured employee.
On the physical front with someone who has been exposed to HIV through their needlestick injury, for example, the adverse side effects of post-exposure prophylaxis (a course of HIV medicines taken soon after a possible exposure to HIV to prevent the virus from taking hold in your body) can be profound, while from a psychological point of view, those who have experienced a needlestick injury frequently suffer severe anxiety about the potential consequences of the accident.
Hospitals top the list of healthcare facilities where the highest number of needlestick injuries are incurred in the UK. Most people would suffer a needlestick injury at work, with people commonly affected being those who work directly with sharps – perhaps because they have not received the correct training or are not being supervised properly – but also workers who have unintentionally been placed at risk of injury when sharps are not stored or disposed of in the correct manner.
Health & Safety Executive (HSE) figures reveal that the risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses from patient to healthcare worker through a percutaneous injury are:
Hepatitis B is a severe infection of the liver caused by a virus that is spread through blood and body fluids. Having chronic (that is, lasting for more than six months) hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis – a condition that permanently scars of the liver.
Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), for which there is currently no effective cure. Once you get HIV, they have it for life, although with proper medical care, it can be controlled.
If you suffer an injury from a sharp which may be contaminated HSE advice is for you to:
You should also get in contact with an expert legal adviser for free on 0800 234 6438, or enter your name and phone number at the bottom of this page to request a callback. Your legal adviser will be able to tell you if you’re in a position to make a personal injury claim, and can then pass you on to a specialist solicitor if you wish to proceed.
Most injury solicitors will work on a no win no fee basis, which takes the financial risk out of making a claim.
A number of statutes impose legal duties on employers to take reasonable steps to keep their workers safe in the workplace. This duty applies whether you work full-time, part-time, or on agency basis These include:
Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health & safety and those of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions. They must take reasonable steps to abide by the guidance provided to them by their employers, and to use equipment in accordance with the training and instructions they receive. They should report any shortcomings in health & safety arrangements and report any potentially dangerous situations.
They should also ensure that all personal protective equipment they are given is used appropriately. This includes:
If you have suffered a needlestick injury at work, you have every right to some sort of redress. Many people might think that making a compensation claim is too complicated or stressful, but if your needlestick injury has caused you suffering, affected your way of life, or meant that you have suffered financial loss (for example, if you’re forced to take time off work or have to retire), it’s only right that you receive some sort of recompense.
With one free, pressure-free phone call to a trained legal adviser on 0800 234 6438, you can discover whether you have a valid claim. If you do, an expert personal injury solicitor can ensure that the claims process that you need to go through is as seamless as possible and they will take on any potential stress so that you don’t have to, and can instead concentrate on your recuperation.
If your employer has breached any of the above health & safety laws, there is a good chance they will be found to be negligent and you will have a valid needlestick compensation claim.
To bring a successful compensation claim, you need to show that the person responsible for your injuries was negligent. This means proving that:
For most workplace accident cases, negligence would be found if the employer responsible had failed to act how a “reasonable man” or the famous “man on the Clapham omnibus” would act in a similar situation.
Apart from the aforementioned HSE advice, it is a good idea to gather evidence from the accident scene and afterwards to help your specialist personal injury solicitor build as strong a case as possible on your behalf. This includes:
Under the Limitation Act 1980, you have three years to bring a needlestick compensation claim from the time of your accident or from the time the severity of your injury manifests itself (whichever comes later). If you try and bring a claim after the three years has elapsed, you may be “time-barred” and the court will refuse to hear your claim.
You are strongly advised, however, to start the claims process as soon as possible after your accident while the details of the incident are still fresh in your mind and in that of anyone else involved, and evidence more readily available.
If your specialist personal injury lawyer feels your needlestick compensation claim has merit, it is highly likely that they will agree to take your case on a no win no fee basis. This means there are no upfront costs and you pay them nothing if you lose the case.
No win no fee agreements are regulated by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 (as amended by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). This dictates that although solicitors are allowed to charge a ‘success fee’ from their compensation claim client if they win their case, there is a cap on the amount of success fee that they are allowed to charge.
Set by the Lord Chancellor, this cap is currently 25 per cent of your final compensation package. This means if you are awarded £4,000 in compensation, the law firm representing you would keep £1,000 (25 per cent).
You should agree the amount of the success fee your solicitor will take before they start your case. They must also ensure that you understand everything involved in the process and answer any questions you have before you sign the no win no fee agreement.
If the needlestick injury you sustained in your accident was partly your fault, or if your injuries were made worse through your own actions or inactions – for example, if you weren’t wearing the proper safety equipment provided by your employer, or if you didn’t carry put a procedure according to your training – you may still be able to make a claim, provided someone else was responsible too.
The amount of compensation you receive will, however, be reduced depending on how much the court feels your negligence contributed to the accident and your subsequent injuries.
Apart from ensuring that all the paperwork connected to your claim is in order and that all deadlines for sending and receiving relevant documents are abided by, your specialist personal injury solicitor will help you gather together all the evidence you need to strengthen your case.
They will refer you to a medical expert who will write an official report outlining his or her assessment of how you received your injuries, the extent of your injuries, and the effect they have had on your life. Your solicitor will also be with you throughout the claims process, striving hard to negotiate you the out-of-court settlement you deserve, but being with you every step of the way to speak on your behalf if your case has to go to court.
Unless your claim is particularly complicated or of very high value, your claim will usually be brought using the Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury (Employers’ Liability and Public Liability) Claims which sets standards and procedures that you and the other side must follow during a claim. They aim to encourage the parties to exchange information at an early stage, consider using a form of alternative dispute resolution to settle the claim, and assess whether you have needs that could be met by rehabilitation, treatment or other measures.
Most compensation claims are settled out of court through negotiation (which your solicitor will conduct on your behalf), but if your case does have to go to court – which might happen if the other side doesn’t admit responsibility, or because you can’t agree a compensation settlement – your claim will then be allocated by the court to one of three ‘tracks’ (the small track, fast track or multi-track). This will depend on the value and nature of the claim.
Your solicitor and the other side will then be given a strict timetable which you are required to work to, which aims to bring your claim to as fast a conclusion as possible.
All compensation claims are different and the length of time it will take you to receive your final compensation package will depend on a number of factors such as:
How much compensation you receive will depend on how serious your injuries are and your long-term prognosis, but could include damages for:
It is illegal for your employer to sack you or treat you any differently just because you bring a compensation claim against them. To do so would count as unfair dismissal (if you were fired) or constructive dismissal (if you were forced out of your job by your employer making your life hell).
If your employer does either of these things, you could quite justifiably take a case to an employment tribunal which has the power to award you compensation or even order that you are reinstated by your employer.
Some people might be concerned that bringing a compensation claim will have an adverse effect on their organisation’s finances. However, you should not worry that bringing a compensation claim against your employer will leave them in financial dire straits as every employer is required by law to have employers’ liability insurance. This means that the insurance company will cover the cost of any compensation claims so the employer will not be out of pocket.
Lucy is a NCTJ trained journalist who studied law at the University of Greenwich. She is a legal journalist and editor with more than 20 years experience writing about the law.
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