Temporary workers hired by Ohio State University to separate plastics and cardboard came across medical waste and various medical files, the workers told 10 TV News in Columbus.
The workers were separating items as part of the university’s zero waste program. Several workers described various medical waste in the items they were separating, including needles, catheters and IVs. Those workers also told the television station that they saw patient records in the paper as well.
Officials from the university declined to go on camera for an interview, but provided the station with a list of procedures on how it would be impossible for medical waste to end up in the stream that workers were sorting.
As we noted recently, green initiatives can and do go badly wrong and perhaps this is just another example.
Details of the Ohio incident are limited. Medical files should be managed securely, particularly in the US where patients and next of kin will file a lawsuit for any breach in confidentiality at the very drop of a hat.
As for the medical (clinical) wastes, clearly something has gone badly wrong in segregation and management of separate waste streams.
What is most obvious is the matter of temporary workers. They are called in from an agency and put to work within minutes. Any induction is, at best, notional in content and in all probability of limited value. Essential PPE items will be recycled from a previous user – no problem there if they are in good condition. But what about supervision. At the very bottom of the pile, those agency staff that make a substantial contribution to the workforce of most UK waste management companies, including those handling clinical wastes, receive inadequate training to do their job safely. That is huge problem, since training an agency worker for 1/2 day of more, when they may only stay for a short time is not money well spent.
Supervision is the key, but that is rather limited in scope, even in the best of companies. Once more, supervision of costly, and that hits the bottom line.
But these agency workers need some reasonable standard of protection for injury and infection. First among this must be a mandatory selection of appropriate PPE items, and a list of do’s and don’ts.
That list should be in the worker’s own language, since there is no value in a brief spoken introduction to a worker who cannot or does not understand because of their nationality and limited English language skills.
And then they’re gone back to the agency. But responsibility does not finish then and there, though many would like to think otherwise.
Perhaps the ideal solution to this tricky problem is a written list of those do’s and don’ts, in a range of languages – check first that they can read – supplemented with some take-home information about hygiene and the need to report any exposures, with necessarily some reasoned explanation of how those exposures may arise ie, sharps injury, contamination of broken skin, splashes to the mouth or eyes.
The purpose if to inform, not frighten, so great detail is not required. Inevitably, information should be supplemented with some basic hygiene information. On arrival, this written sheet would supplement, not replace, a basic induction delivered orally. And none of this is an excuse for inadequate supervision!
Is this value for money?
Yes it is, if it prevents a claim and even more so if it prevents an avoidable incident that now would be likely to incur additional costs when HSE come knocking. And those agency workers, who disappear back into a transient pool, might just be back again, better and more efficient or effective than before. Of better still, future employees, setting off from day one on the right foot.