Be sharp about sharps

Soon you will see these poster appearing near waste receptacles.

We rarely consider the fate of what we throw in trash cans. But we should, because there are environmental consequences and, the often even less considered, effects on those who collect the items for disposal.

During the years, I’ve treated numerous facility maintenance workers who received punctures in the hands or legs while collecting trash. Sometimes the punctures come from a shard of glass, which is painful but not generally a cause for sustained worry. But if that puncture is from a used needle or razor blade, concern increases dramatically.

In the case of a penetrating wound from a blood-tinged object the added concern is of disease transmission. Without knowing who used the object and what their medical history is, it is difficult to know whether to worry or not. That leaves workers unsure of how far to take preventive measures such as vaccinations and medications. A medical professional can follow the rule of thumb and monitor the injured individual for infection for up to one year, but that doesn’t always restore peace of mind for those stuck by objects with clouded histories.

Of course, it’s better to prevent injuries than worry about their consequences after the fact. That’s why coming soon to a Fermilab trash receptacle near you will be a sign to remind us all to put a little thought into what we put in the can.

Let’s all be attentive so we can prevent another’s pain and worry.

—Dr. Brian Svazas