Needlestick injuries are a serious risk to waste industry workers, especially in MRFs where sorting recyclables on picking lines and similar activities can put employees in contact with sharps and, as a result, blood borne pathogens. Historically, exposure to these materials and the rate of incidences associated with them at MRFs has not been well documented, though it has been suggested anecdotally in the industry that the rate has increased in recent years.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) are conducting a joint research project to determine and address the issue of needlestick injuries at Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in the United States and Canada.
An understanding of exposure and injuries related to needles, syringes and related materials can:
- Educate owners, operators, supervisors, employees and/or contract workers of risk.
- Develop mitigation policies and best management practices based on actual industry data.
Given SWANA’s focus on safety and EREF’s expertise in research and data analysis, both organizations are collaborating on an effort to assess the risk of exposure and injuries related to needles and syringes at MRF’s. The objectives of this project are to:
- Summarize current policy and practices pertaining to the safe disposal of home-health needles and other sharps.
- Inventory needlestick incidences at MRFs to estimate total needlestick injuries incidence rates in the U.S. and Canada.
- Quantify the relative importance of needlesticks relative to other risks within the waste industry.
- Document current practices and activities that may be related to increased or decreased needlestick injuries.
As part of this effort, EREF and SWANA conducted an industry-wide survey of MRFs to better understand how important the issue is. Data collected was aggregated and analyzed by EREF, a non-lobbying research foundation with a long history of prudent management of sensitive information. As a result, data specific to a single facility will not be shared directly, but instead will be aggregated with data from other MRFs to ensure anonymity and privacy. EREF and SWANA have released a report that is available to download for free here.