Needlestick from Regular Trash

July 31, 2005

What Happened?

An employee in Campus Recycling & Refuse Services was stuck by a needle while emptying trash bags from a dumpster behind Wellman Hall. The incident happened early in the morning, and the employee sought immediate off-site medical care. A physician dispensed antiretrovirals for a possible Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) exposure, and the employee was very concerned that he might have been infected with a life-threatening disease.

The employee’s supervisor had saved the trash bag, and employees from the Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) sorted through it using tongs. It appeared that trash from multiple rooms had been consolidated into one trash bag containing leaves, paper, food, and disposable laboratory materials including glass tubes, glass and plastic serological pipets, pipet tips, Petri dishes, gloves, and syringes with unsheathed needles attached. From these materials, EH&S was able to locate the researcher who had disposed of the needles. Fortunately, the needles had not been used with hazardous material.

Combined-waste trash bag containing sharps Combined-waste trash bag containing sharps

Combined-waste trash bag containing sharps

What was the Cause?

A researcher using needles with a material that was not hazardous thought that needles could be disposed of in the regular trash instead of in a sharps container.

Lessons Learned

  • Any laboratory item that could pierce skin must be disposed of in a sharps container. Sharps containers are available from campus storehouses or vendors such as Fisher Scientific and VWR Scientific Products.
  • Dispose of other items that may pierce ordinary trash bags (e.g., uncontaminated laboratory glass, syringes without needles, plastic pipets, and pipet tips)
  • All laboratory trashcans used for non-hazardous laboratory waste should be labeled as follows. (These labels are available from custodial staff.)

trash only. no chemicals. no radioactives. no sharps. no batteries. no biohazards.

Radioactive Sharps container

Radioactive Sharps
Sharps container (not red).
Manage as radioactive waste.

red Biohazardous Sharps container

Biohazardous Sharps
Red sharps container.
Manage as medical waste.

Chemically Contaminated Sharps container

Chemically Contaminated Sharps
Sharps container (not red).

Manage as unwanted hazardous chemical.