Using Sharps Safely in the Research Laboratory

Carefully consider the need to use sharp devices, such as needles and glass pipettes. Penetration of the skin with a biologically-contaminated sharp device can result in transmission of microorganisms and viruses that could lead to serious infections.  

Working WIth Sharps: Guidelines

Whenever possible, eliminate the use of devices, including Pasteur pipettes, that can puncture your skin.

  • As part of your risk assessment process, identify all sharps you are using in your procedures and consider if an alternative is available.

Restrict the use of sharp-tipped needles for procedures for which there is no alternative.

  • Blunt cannulas can be used to replace sharp-tipped needles for certain procedures such as oral or intranasal animal inoculations, resuspending lyophilized material through a rubber seal or filling microfluidic chambers.

Pasteur pipettes, capillary tubes and glass septum vials will create a sharp hazard if broken. 

  • Consider replacing Pasteur pipettes with plastic aspirating pipettes. 

Pipettes and Needle

Plastic aspirating pipette and blunt-tipped needle

Consider the use of sharps with an engineered safety device if available and feasible for your procedure.

  • You can find a list of alternatives to conventional sharps here.

Seek training in proper techniques prior to using sharp devices in conjunction with potentially infectious materials.

  • Poor technique can increase your risk of sustaining a sharps exposure. Practice in a controlled setting before using a sharp with potentially infectious material.

Use scalpels safely.

  • Don’t use scalpel blades without a handle. The handle provides you with a means to control the blade and puts a barrier between your hand and the sharp edge.
  • Use disposable safety scalpels with fixed blades when possible. These devices eliminate the need to remove a blade, which is difficult to do in a safe manner.
  • If you must use a reuseable scalpel, choose a device with engineered safety features that allow you to enclose the blade prior to removal. If a safety-engineered blade is not an option, you must use forceps to remove the blade.

Don’t leave sharp devices out in the environment.

  • Place used, disposable sharps directly into a sharps container immediately after use. Do not recap needles prior to disposal of the device.
  • For reuseable sharps, such as knives or scissors, a storage container—such as a tray or inexpensive emesis basin—should be readily available at the point of use.  

During animal perfusion procedures, place the needle/syringe into a tray or basin in between uses.  

Rigid tray for holding sharps

Do not use syringes with needles attached as a specimen container if other alternatives exist. 

  • If there are no other alternatives, place the needle and syringe in a leak-proof secondary container with a secure lid for transport.

Take precautions when cleaning/disinfecting sharps.

  • When cleaning and reprocessing reuseable sharps, use cleaning tools, such as a brush or sponge on a handle, that limits the potential for contact between your hands and the sharps surfaces.

Never put excessive force on a sharp.

  • Bending or breaking sharps increases your risk of sustaining a puncture wound.

Use an appropriate sharps container for disposal of sharps waste.

  • Makeshift containers such as beakers, coffee cans, bleach bottles, etc., are not appropriate sharps containers.

Do not overfill sharps containers.

  • Sharps should drop freely into the container. If items don’t fall into the container, it is too full or the wrong size.
    Don't overfill sharps containers.

    Close and lock sharps containers when they are 3/4 full.

  • Don’t use the sharps container for gauze or gloves or other items that take up space and prevent the sharp from falling freely into the container.
  • Don’t shake sharps containers to make more room. Shaking creates aerosols and can cause items to come out of the containers.
  • Don’t force a sharp into a container and never retrieve an item from a sharps container with your hand.
  • When the sharps container is 3/4 full, close and lock the lid and place container into a regulated medical waste box. 

Information in this section was adapted from Vanderbilt University's "Using Sharps Safely in the Lab"