Poor needle disposal practices, recapping of used ones and injuries put healthcare workers at high risk of blood-borne infections like HIV, hepatitis B and C.
The study, conducted by doctors at the Safdarjung Hospital, published in Indian Journal of Medical Research in March 2010, has shown that 60 per cent of healthcare workers are not aware of precautionary options available to them in hospitals and 75 per cent nursing students did not seek help when exposed to needle injuries.
The findings show that the most common clinical activity to cause the needle stick injury was blood withdrawal (55%), followed by suturing (20.3%) and vaccination (11.7%).
The study also highlighted the menace caused by the practice of recapping needles after use.
About 66.3 per cent healthcare workers responded in the affirmative to recapping used needles.
Some healthcare workers revealed that they bent the needles before discarding (11.4%).
The study group consisted of 428 healthcare workers of various categories — nurses, staff, resident doctors and interns at Safdarjung Hospital.
"Needle stick is a huge problem, especially in the wake of the huge patient load we get at Safdarjung," said Dr Sumanthi Muralidhar, lead researcher and senior microbiologist at Safdarjung Hospital.
"The towering occurrence of needle stick injuries in healthcare workers is primarily because of a high rate of ignorance. Periodic workshops are needed for increased awareness," she said.
"There is complete lack of training among health care workers. Injury issues need to be addressed through awareness and other interventional strategies by the hospital infection control committee," said Dr Sanjeev Singh, medical administrator at the Amrita Institute of Medical Science, Kochi, which does health testing for UK visas in Kerela.
"Last year, almost 15 percent healthcare workers could not get work visas for the UK after they tested positive for Hepatitis B and C and HIV," Singh added.
"Unfortunately in India, we do not have any federal agencies like in the US, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to regulate workplace safety," said Singh.
Researchers say that the incidence of needle stick injuries could be much higher than revealed by current estimates, due to underreporting (often less than 50 %).