OSHA enforces BBP standards in recycling industry

Minnesota residents who work in the recycling and waste collection field probably know how needlestick injuries are a common risk. Used hypodermic needles, lancets, and other sharps contain blood, which may be contaminated with bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B and HIV. Standards for the determination and control of BBPs are something that OSHA has been working to enforce from facility to facility.

TOMRA NY Recycling LLC, a company with facilities across New York, is one example. An enforcement action has led to the company agreeing to several changes in the workplace: sorters are to be provided with annual OSHA BBP standards training, hepatitis B vaccinations, and equipment like tongs and puncture-resistant gloves.

Some believe this action is a sign that OSHA has modified its position on the issue of BBP exposure in recycling facilities. It's clear, however, that the TOMRA enforcement action came about as a result of frequent needlestick injuries, mainly due to hypodermic needles.

In 1993, OSHA did not require the sorters of one recycling facility to be covered by BBP standards. This was because the facility, in response to a letter of interpretation from OSHA, adopted a procedure whereby conveyors would be stopped whenever needles were discovered. In 2003, OSHA declared that citations could be made to companies that failed to train and vaccinate employees responsible for detecting and discarding sharps.

The employees themselves, when they are the victims of on-the-job accidents, have the option of either filing for workers' compensation benefits or setting up a personal injury claim. The latter will require the victim to prove that negligent actions on the company's part caused the injury: for example, infection with a BBP. A lawyer can hire investigators to see if workplace safety conditions accord with federal regulations. Legal representation can also be helpful when negotiating for a settlement.

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