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Needle Stick Prevention Tips: Worker Safety in Recycling Facilities

- January 29, 2018 by Terio Duran (View all posts by Terio)

State law (H&SC §118286) in California makes it illegal for a person to knowingly dispose of home-generated sharps in their trash or containers used for the collection of solid waste, recyclable materials or green waste. Similar laws exist in many other states. Examples of home-generated sharps include hypodermic needles, intravenous needles, pen needles, lancets, and other devices that are used to puncture through the skin.

Even with these laws, millions of home generated sharps are still carelessly thrown away every year. As a result, workers in the solid waste industry are at higher risk to punctures, cuts and lacerations caused by needles and sharps devices.  A puncture wound by a hypodermic needle or other sharp object might cause serious infection or expose the worker to bloodborne pathogens including hepatitis, HIV and other dangerous diseases.

Employees working in the recycling industry and in particular in material recovery systems have to take extra caution when handling garbage along sorting lines.

To reduce the risk of injury, follow the safe work practices listed below:

  1. Always presume that needles and sharp objects are hidden inside garbage and recyclable material.
  2. Never carelessly place your hands inside bags, containers or areas that could contain needles or sharp objects.
  3. Never compact or push down on garbage or material with your hands.
  4. Always use personal protective equipment including gloves and protective sleeves.
  5. Use gloves and sleeves that offer the highest level puncture resistance to the parts of the hands and arms that are most susceptible to puncture injuries.
  6. If you’re gloves or sleeves are torn or damaged immediately report this to your supervisor and request replacements.
  7. Remember that gloves and sleeves are not puncture proof. They offer some puncture resistance however needles and sharp objects can easily puncture through most materials.
  8. Never run your hands and arms carelessly through garbage and recyclable material.
  9. Never cradle or hold garbage, garbage bags or material inside your arms and hands.
  10. Remember that the tops and sides of most gloves have virtually no protection. This will make the tops and sides of your hands more susceptible to punctures.
  11. Try to sort through garbage and material by grasping with your fingers. Do not to grab and squeeze garbage and material with your hands.
  12. Take extra caution with handling plastic bottles as people frequently use these to dispose of hypodermic needles and small sharps devices.
  13. Take extra caution with handling and removing trash from inside garbage bags as people frequently discard their needles inside these.
  14. Never sift or move your hands under and through garbage.
  15. If you see a hypodermic needle or other sharp device, on the sorting line, immediately notify the line operator to stop the conveyor. Once the conveyor has been stopped, notify your supervisor of the needle.
  16. Hypodermic needles should be retrieved by trained and authorized personnel only.
  17. All hypodermic needles must be disposed of in sharps containers which should be placed at designated locations near your sorting stations.
  18. If you are punctured by a needle or sharp object, immediately clean the wound with soap and water and notify your supervisor.