Sharps Safety

Sharps injuries are among the most commonly reported injuries in UW research and clinical settings. Sharps are devices, such as needles, scalpels, and lancets, which are used to cut or pierce skin, blood vessels or tissue. 

Individuals working with sharps should take necessary precautions to prevent injury and exposure to biological, chemical and other potentially hazardous agents. We recommend that researchers prepare to work with sharps by doing the following:

  1. Eliminate sharps from procedures or substitute for safer sharps devices as appropriate.
  2. Develop written procedures to handle sharps safely.
  3. Train all staff working with sharps.
  4. Dispose of sharps properly.
  5. Prepare for exposure and spill response.

EH&S is committed to assisting faculty and staff by providing resources to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries before, during and after procedures involving sharps. The following resources will help you and your staff avoid needlesticks and sharps injuries.

Vanishpoint needle syringe
3 mLVanishPoint Retractable syringe

Before the procedure

Eliminate or substitute sharps

The best way to avoid needlestick and other sharps injuries is to avoid using a sharps device when it is not necessary, or use tools to minimize the hazard, such as a safety-engineered device or a needle-syringe holder. 

Identify all sharps devices in your procedures, then do the following:

Think of ways to perform the task without a sharps device. Examples:

  • Eliminate glass by choosing plastic when possible.
  • Use a blunt needle instead of a sharp needle.

Additional suggestions for eliminating sharps are provided below.

tissue scissors
Tissue scissors

Select a safer device that will accomplish the same result while also lowering your risk of injury. Examples:

  • Use sharp tissue scissors to cut tissue rather than a razor blade for more control.
  • Use a plastic gel cutter instead of a razor blade to cut electrophoresis gels.

Additional suggestions for substituting sharps are provided below.

EH&S can recommend safer sharps devices that align with your procedures and desired result.

It is estimated that 62-88% of injuries can be avoided through the use of safer devices.

BD Vacutainer blood collection device
BD Vacutainer blood collection safety-engineered device

Prepare written procedures

Prior to beginning a new procedure, develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) that describes:

  • Steps to perform the procedure safely
  • Tools and instruments that are needed to perform the procedure safely
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Steps for responding to an accident, exposure or injury

NOTE: If working with human blood or other potentially infectious materials, you are also required to have a Site-Specific Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Control Plan.

Safe sharps procedures can be incorporated into your exposure control plan.

EH&S can assist with development and review of written procedures.

    Training and practice

    Consult with your supervisor to determine the required and recommended training you must complete prior to beginning work.

    Training may include:

    During the procedure

    During all procedures involving sharps, awareness of your surroundings and careful action is required to avoid accidents and injuries. Best practice is to announce that sharps are in use when others are present. Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow all written procedures.

    In addition, keep in mind the following safety tips:

    Safe handling of needles

    needle recapper
    Delasco Recapper and Syringe Holder

    • Avoid recapping needles. Use a needle holder or recapper, if necessary.
    • Dispose of uncapped needles immediately after use. Never leave an uncapped needle laying on a workbench.
    • Use a tool to remove a needle from a syringe, if removal is necessary.
    • Point the needle away from yourself.
    • Keep visual contact with the needle at all times while uncapped.


    Safe handling of blades and scalpels


    safe storage of razor blades
    Razor blades stored on magnetic strip

    • Use disposable safety scalpels with a fixed blade and a retractable sheath when possible.
    • Don’t use excessive force or a sawing motion when using a scalpel.
    • Don’t use your fingers to hold a razor blade. Use blade with a handle, or use pliers to place the razor blade in a holder.
    • Don’t cut or trim an object you are holding with your other hand. Use forceps or another tool to hold an object while cutting.
    • Sharp tissue scissors provide more control than a razor blade for cutting tissue.
    • Purchase safety cutters to open boxes.
    • Don’t use a razor blade to cut smaller strips of tape from a larger roll. Order the appropriate sized tape.
    • Don’t get distracted and rush though the task.            
    • Place reusable sharps in a reusable sharps container immediately after use.

    Video: How to safely attach a scalpel blade to a handle

    After the procedure

    Keep a sharps container near your work station and immediately dispose of sharps after the procedure.

    • Needles should never be laid uncapped on a workbench.
    • Sharps that retract after use should be disposed of like all other sharps.

    sharps container 2/3 full
    Image source: Outagamie and Winnebago counties


    Never fill a sharps container more than two-thirds full.

    examples of properly filled and overfilled sharps container
    Image source: Princeton University

    Overfilling a sharps container presents hazards to those using it, and to those collecting the containers for disposal.






    Refer to the Sharps and Lab Glass Waste page for information on treating and disposing of sharps waste containers.

    Exposure and spill response

    Be prepared for a sharps injury or exposure by placing the Exposure Response Poster in a visible location.

    • Call 9-1-1 for a life-threatening injury or emergency.
    • Follow the instructions on the Exposure Response Poster.exposure response poster
    • Report the incident to EH&S and your supervisor within 24 hours (as soon as possible if a serious or fatal accident occurs).
    • When filling out the OARS report, note the type of sharp involved, as well as any substances, chemicals, or agents you may have been exposed to.

    Refer to the Spill Response poster for spill response and cleanup information.

    For spills involving biohazards, refer to the Biohazardous Spills information sheet.

    Services available

    EH&S is available for consultation on procedures that involve needles and other sharps devices, including;

    • Developing written procedures
    • Recommending safer sharps devices
    • Providing training and demonstrations
    • Identifying and referring subject matter experts to consult on specific procedures

    Frequently asked questions


    Biological Safety Contact

    (206) 221-7770
    Reference Files 
    Biohazardous Spills
    134.26KB (.pdf)
    Biosafety SOP template
    159.91KB (.docx)
    Exposure Response Poster
    95.49KB (.pdf)
    Spill Response Poster
    126.63KB (.pdf)