California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health recently fined Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in Vallejo $149,900 for potentially exposing workers to injury and infection from used needles at the hospital’s collection box for biomedical waste.
Cal/OSHA cited Kaiser for five workplace safety violations of the bloodborne pathogens standard, which requires employers to protect workers from coming into contact with blood or other disease-carrying body fluids. Two of the violations issued to Kaiser are classified as willful serious, according to a press release, as evidence shows that the employer was aware that an unsafe or hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate the condition.
At least three custodial employees have been stuck by needles while attempting to empty the deposit box, and all three have been given prophylactic medication to prevent disease or unwanted consequences. The first injury occurred in 2013 and the other two this year.
Kaiser members deposit their used needles through a hinged slot on the metal box, which resembles a postal mailbox, according to the release. The needles fall into an inner plastic disposal box inside to contain biomedical waste. Employees transferred the contents into a larger disposal container for collection by Kaiser’s waste hauling contractor. Department of Industrial Relations Release No.15-111 Page 2 Cal/OSHA investigators learned that employees were instructed to clean the box using a broom and dustpan.
When those tools proved inadequate, employees had to reach into the box to remove spilled waste, even though needles were often deposited without a protective cap.
Kaiser replaced the kiosk with two larger disposal units following an inspection, and now requires they be monitored every 30 minutes.