Practice Needle Know-How

One of your co-workers comes to you and mentions that he just stuck himself with a needle containing a swine vaccine combination. He asks if this could be a problem. [Source: National Hog Farmer, 11 February 2019, by Ann Hess]

How do you respond?

  1. Don't worry, it's for pigs and won't affect you.
  2. Hmm ... maybe you should get some antibiotics.
  3. Probably, you should just get a tetanus shot.
  4. I have no clue.

According to Jeff Bender, professor at the School of Public Health and College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, and co-director of the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, "d" is often the most popular response.

"Needlestick injuries are common, especially in agriculture settings and in swine settings," Bender says. "There are a really limited number of documented cases in the literature, but some of these can be serious — and there is a real need for us to be aware of the issue and take precautions."

While injuries can be minor, needlesticks can cause skin infections, allergic reactions and sometimes deep-tissue wounds that require surgery. That's why the National Pork Board has dedicated resources to training and educating the industry on "Needle Know-How." The concept not only addresses effectively administering injections but also broken needle prevention, animal handling, proper needle disposal, treatment records and reporting of broken needles, as well as creating awareness around proper medication management.

While there is very little data available to track the occurrence of broken needles in the industry, Karen Hoare, director of Producer Learning and Development at NPB, says there is still a risk for a broken needle to reach the finished pork market.

"While the risk is small, especially considering the number of injections given across the industry on an annual basis, the impact of one needle reaching the consumer or the retailer could be far-reaching and significant," Hoare says. "It would impact markets and it would impact consumer trust."

Broken needles and needlestick injuries often occur when a pig that is being vaccinated or treated suddenly jumps or moves. Bender says implementing a comprehensive needlestick prevention program on farm is crucial and should include the following practices.

For employees

  • Slow down — don't rush with injections.
  • Restrain animals properly. Get help from coworkers. Use the correct equipment and techniques.
  • Don't put needle caps in your mouth. Don't carry needles or syringes in your pockets.
  • Discard bent needles — don't use or straighten.
  • Use approved sharps containers. Don't remove needles from a sharps container.
  • Don't recap needles.
  • Report all needlestick injuries to management, and contact your healthcare provider.

For management

  • Train employees in safe needle handling and injection procedures, as well as the type of drugs used. Routinely retrain employees to reinforce safety procedures.
  • Provide safe animal handling equipment, and ensure proper staffing.
  • Provide readily accessible sharps container for safe needle disposal.
  • Provide needles or syringes with protective devices, such as retractable needles or hinged syringe caps.
  • Remind employees to use caution when using products of concern. Employees should not rush, and pregnant employees should not inject hormones.
  • Encourage employees to report injuries and contact a healthcare provider.