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Ask the expert: Passing the buck and the needle on disposal practices

Q: Who is responsible, the dental assistant or dentist, for the disposing of a contaminated needle in the sharps container?

A: OSHA’s Bloodborne pathogens Standard 1910.1030(d)(2)(i) [1] says:

Engineering and work practice controls shall be used to eliminate or minimize employee exposure.

I believe the unnecessary handing of a contaminated sharp, even with the safety mechanism engaged, by a dental assistant constitutes a work practice that increases the chance of exposure.

This is supported by OSHA’s Enforcement Procedures for the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens [2] which says:

Preventing exposures requires a comprehensive program, including the use of engineering controls…and proper work practices (e.g., no-hands procedures in handling contaminated sharps, eliminating hand-to-hand instrument passing in the operating room).

Is there a patient safety reason for the dentist not disposing of the sharp. If not, I’d say having the dental assistant unnecessarily handling the contaminated shard is a likely OSHA violation.

What do you think, is this a standard or unsafe work practice. Let us know in the comment section below.