June 22, 2000
Magda Lynn Seymour
Diane S. Witiak
(202) 639-6419

AFGE Calls for Needlestick Protection for VA Health Care Workers

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)-"Far too many workers are being exposed to needlesticks and other injuries when the technology exists to prevent these exposures," Bobby L. Harnage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told lawmakers in a statement presented to the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protection. "H.R. 1899, the Health Care Workers Needlestick Injury Prevention Act, will provide the stronger protection workers who care for the sick and injured of our nation have been lacking," he emphasized.

In his statement Harnage pointed out that though nursing staff have been found to have the highest risk of needlestick or sharps injuries, other health care workers such as housekeeping staff and hospital laundry employees are also at risk from improper disposal of contaminated needles and broken specimen tubes.

"As the largest health care system in the United States, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be the model employer for needlestick protection," Harnage added. "Yet, AFGE estimates that in 1994 alone, roughly one needlestick injury occurred for every 32 VA medical care employees."

Harnage noted that estimates indicate two to 10 percent of hospital patients nationwide are Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)-positive, but eight to 10 percent of veterans are HCV-positive. In the New York area, the infectious rate for the VA patient population is over 12 percent. Thus, health care workers at the VA treat a population that is four to five times more likely to place them at risk of HCV infection than the patient population served at private sector hospitals.

"Some VA medical directors may be reluctant to use protective safety features because they cost a little more," Harnage concluded. "However, you need only compare that cost to the cost of a worker's life or the cost of continuous medical care for a life-threatening disease to realize that funding for prevention is well spent."

The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, is the largest union for government employees, representing 600,000 federal workers in the United States and overseas, as well as employees of the District of Columbia. AFGE represents some 125,000 VA workers nationwide-more federal health care workers than any other union.

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