How To Prevent Syringe Accidents for Columbia Workers

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COLUMBIA - In the past three years, there have been a total of 23 cuts/puncture accidents within the Columbia Solid Waste Division. Out of the 23 accidents, four of those were from needles, in both the Solid Waste Collection and Material Recovery Facility divisions.

Even though the boxes people use to dispose syringes say bio hazards on the lid, Cynthia Mitchell, the Solid Waste Utility Manager, says they refer to syringes as sharps.

"Well syringes are considered sharps, and should be put in proper packaging so someone doesn't get poked with those," Mitchell said. "It's from insulin usually, or there could be people putting in illegal materials in there and we don't want that definitely."

Mitchell also said trash collectors are exposed to getting poked by syringes, but those who sort through the trash are more likely to get poked by these sharp objects.

Once a worker gets poked with a syringe, the process to recovery consists of various shots and follow up check ups to make sure the person wasn't exposed to any type of disease.

"They have to follow up with Hepatitis type testing, shots for several months," Mitchell said. "It's a series of medication to make sure you don't get some type of illness from coming in contact with that."

Nicolas Paul, the supervisor of the Material Recovery Facility Division, is a Columbia worker who was poked by a syringe a few years back.

"When you open a blue bag, you don't expect needles to be in there and a lot of times you'll grab a blue bag, open it up and a needle will go through the gloves and stuff like that," Paul said.

Along with the physical pain and numerous check ups, Paul said there are other concerns as well.

"Maybe I could contract something, because you don't know what somebody already has and you don't want to transfer a disease to somebody else with a needle," Paul said. 

To try and keep the number of syringe accidents low, the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services came up with The Red Box Program.

"This program was designed by one of our environmental health specialists, as a way to get needles and other sharps safely disposed of them so they don't show up in the landfill and people are not having to come in contact with them," said Andrea Waner, the Public Information Officer.

The program gives people a safer and easier way of disposing sharp objects like syringes instead of throwing them away in plain garbage bags. People can get these red boxes for free. Once the box is filled up, they can bring them back to the health department where the workers place them in another box until another company properly disposes them.

To prevent more accidents, Columbia workers have tried finding new ways to keep them safe. 

"We tried different types of gloves. We tried leather and we tried heavy plastic," said Paul. "The real heavy plastic though, it was harder to be able to open the bag and we ended up going back."

Both Mitchell and Paul said another way to dispose of syringes is to place them in items like coffee containers or peanut butter jars, put tape around them to make sure they're closed, and label them to help workers know before opening the containers.