Pointers on safe TASER dart removal
According to the TASER International web site, TASER electronic control devicesreportedly “have been used on humans 2 million times” and are “safer than high school sports.” As for pulling out those 2 million darts without potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens (BBPs) such as HIV or hepatitis, that is not a TASER issue — it is a federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issue.
A dart meets the OSHA definition of a “sharp,” and if it has penetrated the skin, it is a “contaminated sharp.” An injury from one, such as getting scratched or stuck with the dart after removal, is an “exposure incident” and must be recorded on the “sharps injury log.”
Some police departments forbid officers to remove darts, leaving it to responding paramedics, EMTs or ambulance personnel. That is a safe work practice for those officers, but medical responders and departments that allow removal face the TASER dart equivalent of a needle-stick.
OSHA does not dictate how to pull a dart, only that it is done safely. There is no mention of contaminated darts in the BBP standard since they are treated by OSHA the same as contaminated needles. Contaminated dart containers must be closable, puncture-resistant, leakproof on sides and bottom, and labeled or color-coded in accordance with the standard. That might or might not allow putting darts back into the cartridge from which they were fired.
Some departmental protocols allow yanking darts by hand, while others specify pliers or similar tools. Either way, the puller must use proper techniques and personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid sticking himself or herself. Hands get scrubbed and cleaned, and removal tools must be decontaminated or disposed after each exposure. Otherwise, on the next extraction, the tool creates a potential exposure incident for both sides.
Federal OSHA does not cover state and local government employees. However, 27 states administer their own approved programs, each required to cover public-sector employees. Absent OSHA coverage, where would a department look to determine what is “safe” for their employees? If a lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim results, a jury will want to know why the department thought it was okay to do what they did. The key is a well-written Exposure Control Plan (ECP) that defines good work practices, exposure precautions and ongoing training. This is clearly laid out in the OSHA BBP requirements, so there is no guesswork required. Lack of a solid BBP program, or poor compliance with the one you have, is a guaranteed loss in court.
Tips for officers:
1. Review your written ECP to determine whether it addresses dart removal. If you cannot find it or are unfamiliar with it, ask your Safety/Training Officer (S/TO).
2. If your ECP does not clearly address dart handling or seems to have gaps in the procedure, communicate your concerns to the S/TO.
3. Make sure your annual BBP training is current and reflects the ECP.
4. Discuss with your S/TO any concerns you have regarding your training or ability to comply with the written program.
5. Stick to the script. Know your ECP and follow it.
Scott Harris is an occupational health and risk management consultant at Franklin, Tenn.-based
UL PureSafety, He is an advisory member of the American Society of Safety Engineers’ Healthcare Practice Specialty, and a course director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center. His experience spans more than 30 years of environmental, health and safety management in federal and state government, consulting, general industry and university instruction.
He holds a Ph.D. in environmental science, with a specialization in disaster and emergency management, from Oklahoma State University and degrees in public health (MSPH) and geology (B.S.) from Western Kentucky University.