A recent investigation of a single emergency department by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) underscores the reality that even seemingly minor work-related safety challenges could lead to significant harm to employees.
During the inspection of one emergency department – which is located in Oregon, but could have been located in Minnesota or anywhere else across the country – OSHA took particular issue with overflowing “sharps” containers designed to hold used syringes, needles and lancets. The emergency department was cited and fined as a result of this health and safety violation.
What is the big deal?
There are two primary concerns with overflowing sharps containers. The first is that it is all too easy for workers – and even patients – to be stuck by a used needle as they pass an overflowing container. The second is that when the contents of a sharps container aren’t properly contained, discarding that container and its contents becomes a particularly hazardous job.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that approximately 385,000 healthcare professionals sustain injuries as a result of unintentional punctures from needles each and every year. These punctures can both cause harm in and of themselves and can lead to harm from blood-borne pathogens.
As a result, what seems to be a relatively insignificant safety issue – a waste receptacle that is overfull – can quickly become a catalyst for serious medical issues. It may seem like an overreach, at first glance, to fine a hospital for consistently failing to discard sharps containers. But, for those who work in such a facility, this issue can be truly pressing.
It is important for workers to remember that they have a right to a reasonably safe work environment. As a result, they should feel empowered to seek legal guidance in the event that their conditions are unsafe or they have sustained harm and need to seek compensation accordingly.