In 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that UniFirst Corp. had exposed its employees to bloodborne pathogens and lead at its New Jersey facility.
UniFirst is a uniform laundering company that processes dirty lab coats and other protective clothing from customers who draw and handle blood regularly. The facility also handled uniforms that were regularly exposed to high lead levels.
The work exposed employees to bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Workers who handled the clothes risked possible infection from improperly discarded needles and syringes, as well as tainted blood.
How Does OSHA Protect Workers from Bloodborne Pathogens?
According to OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, employers are required to offer the HBV vaccine to all workers who face potential exposure. Workers are allowed to refuse the vaccine, but they must sign documentation acknowledging that it had been offered.
Some employees at UniFirst were not informed about the vaccine for months and even years after their employment, violating OSHA regulations and increasing the risk of exposure. Management also failed to train employees about personal protective equipment, a crucial safeguard when handling potentially contaminated laundry.
Who Is Responsible for Employee Safety Training?
OSHA investigators discovered evidence of inadequate training and falsified sign-in sheets, where members of management required employees to sign off on safety training they had not received. UniFirst protested the citations, but OSHA’s independent Health Review Commission rejected its appeal on September 30.
UniFirst had many opportunities to train its employees properly, but it chose to cut corners. The company’s indifference could have cost workers their health, infecting them with a serious (and potentially deadly) virus or pathogen.
Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, and a big part of that is providing the right information. If you are working without the proper training, your health could be in danger.
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[Did You Know: More than 20 bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted through needlesticks, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.]
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