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OSHA upholds BBP standards with enforcement action

In the waste collection and recycling industry, there's always the risk of bloodborne pathogen exposure due to the presence of needles and other sharps, which are often contaminated with blood. Residents of Oklahoma who work in this industry should know that OSHA has been doing a lot to uphold its standards regarding BBP determination and control.

A settlement agreement with TOMRA NY Recycling LLC has led to several corporate-wide changes. Every employee, including every temporary and leased employee, who manually sorts recyclable bottles and cans must now undergo annual training in OSHA's BBP standards; be provided with puncture-resistant gloves, tongs, or other engineering controls; and be given a series of hepatitis B vaccinations.

This enforcement action was based on the presence of hypodermic needles and the occurrence of needlestick injuries. Some believe that it reflects a change in OSHA's position on the application of its BBP standards to recycling and waste management facilities.

In 1993, OSHA issued a letter of interpretation to a recycling facilities operator inquiring about the infrequent presence of sharps on its conveyors. Eventually, the operator established a procedure whereby the conveyor would be stopped and the supervisor summoned each time a needle is discovered. In 2003, another letter of interpretation from OSHA stated that failing to provide sorters with BBP training and pre-exposure hepatitis vaccinations could lead to a citation.

When companies compromise workplace safety by not regulating exposure to BBPs, they open themselves up to potential injury claims and lawsuits. Employees who contract diseases from contaminated sharps can consult with a lawyer about their options. When there's a clear case of negligence, it is better to file an injury claim than settle for workers' compensation, which may not cover future lost wages and follow-up care. A lawyer can request an investigation into the accident to see if any federal safety regulations were violated.

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