According to a recent legal settlement between a recycling company and the Occupational Safety Health Administration, workers who work in Minnesota and national recycling centers or whose jobs involve handling sharp objects may receive better protection in the near future. The settlement between TOMRA, a Norwegian company that operates a recycling center in New York, and OSHA includes an acknowledgment that employees who sort bottles and cans are effectively exposed to blood-borne pathogens.

The TOMRA sorters will now have to be given a series of three vaccinations against the hepatitis B virus, and they will also have to be provided with gloves and tools that are resistant to punctures; this is part of the OSHA standard for workers who are at risk of coming into contact with sharp objects that may be contaminated with blood. In the past, OSHA has decided that the blood-borne pathogen standard did not apply in cases when conveyor belt operators spotted a hypodermic needles in a recycling plant; only a supervisor had to be protected since she would be the one responsible for needle disposal.

The TOMRA settlement could be the beginning of a more strict interpretation of the rules for workplaces where sharps are handled. Hypodermic needles and syringes are sometimes found in discarded cans and bottles; this happens when drug users or patients who must inject themselves carelessly dispose of their sharp object.

Those who are exposed to such dangers on the job and face injuries resulting from that exposure may want to seek a lawyer experienced in workers’ compensation. A lawyer could help determine if a claim can be made on the basis of the OSHA blood-borne pathogen standard.