The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) Raleigh, North Carolina, has collaborated with the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, on a study that examines the rate at which material recovery facility (MRF) workers are stuck by needles.
The study indicates a needlestick injury rate of 2.7 per 100 workers. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2016 data, MRF injuries (including non-needlestick related) occur at a rate of 6 per 100 workers, suggesting 45 percent of MRF injuries could be attributed to needlesticks.
This study surveyed MRF owners on needlestick occurrences at their facilities, an area in which little data exists, EREF says. The survey, which was initiated online with follow-up calls and emails for additional information, includes responses from 35 MRFs across the U.S. and Canada. Fifty-three percent of these facilities noted having simply observed needles daily or a few times per week. Over half of the facilities observed them mixed with plastics. Because of their direct contact with waste material, MRF picking line workers experienced the highest number of incidences at a rate of 3.9 per 100 workers.
“MRFs across the U.S. are working to decrease contamination in order to meet China’s new standards, putting more pressure on picking line workers to remove contamination and increasing the possibility of injury,” says Bryan Staley, EREF CEO and president. “Given the limited data available on needlesticks, this study aims to inform discussions and decision-making related to worker safety.”
Based on EREF findings, it is estimated that between 781 and 1,484 needlestick injuries might occur each year at U.S. MRFs. These injuries could result in up to $2.25 million in direct costs for treatment, prophylaxis and patient monitoring.
“SWANA was pleased to work with EREF on this important study as needlesticks are a growing occupational hazard at MRFs and other solid waste facilities,” says David Biderman, SWANA CEO and executive director. “We look forward to working on additional projects with EREF in the near future.”
Seventy-five percent of survey respondents state that needlestick incidences are very important compared with other risks, EREF says. MRFs identified several strategies to reduce needlestick injuries, including written protocols, the use of personal protective equipment, changes in operations or equipment to manage the hazard, reinforcement of reporting and facility and community education.
While policies and guidance exist to regulate household sharps disposal, these policies vary from state to state, the organization says. Forty-six states, excluding California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Wisconsin, allow for sharps disposal in household trash, provided it is contained in a properly labeled, rigid container. Other suggested disposal methods aim to eliminate needles from the municipal solid waste stream altogether. They include community drop-off sites, mail-back and syringe exchange programs and residential special waste pickup services.