( Rocky Mountain News )

Rocky Mountain News, William Carlsen; San Francisco Chronicle,


Tim Ulatowski, a top official of the Federal Drug Administration, had been speaking for about 15 minutes Tuesday when a wave of frustration broke over him at a health-care worker safety conference.

A nursing safety expert asked how many hundreds of medical workers need to die from contaminated needle sticks before the agency bans standard needles and syringes that are causing the injuries.

When, a doctor asked, is the FDA going to mandate the use of safety needles? Another safety specialist accused the FDA of "weaseling out" of its obligations to prevent injuries to workers from medical devices. Although such outbursts were rare at the two-day conference on the hazards of accidental needle injuries, they served to illuminate the frustration expressed by many health care workers: Despite more than 1 million needle sticks and four such conferences in the past 10 years, the government and hospital administrators have done little to improve safety. It is a particularly urgent matter for many of the participants at the conference. Needle sticks are responsible for infecting tens of thousands of medical workers with HIV and hepatitis viruses over the past decade. With no solid, comprehensive proposals offered to solve the problem, Murray Cohen, a former official of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who organized the meeting, told participants at the end of the conference that "we must aim for zero injuries.’ ‘ But he left the attendees with no clear outline of how that might be accomplished. Needle manufacturers who attended the conference had their own solutions, however. More than a dozen lined the hallways and small meeting rooms at the Marriott hotel with exhibits - an array of ingenious designs created to keep contaminated needles from piercing the hands and fingers of medical workers. Ulatowski, speaking at one of the conference’s workshops, said he took great pride in the speed with which his agency is approving new safety designs for the market, pointing out that more than 250 such devices have been granted approval.

But as for mandating the use of safety needles and banning standard needles, he said the agency is not even considering that step.

Copyright © 1998, Denver Publishing Co.

William Carlsen; San Francisco Chronicle, HEALTHCARE WORKERS SORE OVER NEEDLES FDA WON’T BAN KIND THAT CAUSE MOST INJURIES., Rocky Mountain News, 08-13-1998, pp 55A.