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Cancer treatment center’s refusal to use safer needles exposes staff to bloodborne pathogens

injectionAlthough staff at New England Hematology/Oncology Associates raised the alarm about the hazardous needle system in use at the facility, the Newton, Mass. medical service provider continued to use a system that was not engineered to reduce the risk of injury, thereby exposing its employees to a variety of biohazards, according to OSHA.

The agency launched an investigation after workers complained that the needles used to treat cancer patients were not safety-engineered devices and that when removing the needles, they were at risk of needlestick injuries. OSHA found that the workers’ concerns were valid because safer needle systems, such as automatically sheathing needles, were not used.

Proposed penalties total $46,900. The bulk of that amount - $42,000 – is for a willful violation, which is committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

"The willful violation exists because the employer initially agreed to address the issue, as required by the regulation, but did not follow through," said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director in Andover. "This medical provider put workers at risk of coming into contact with needlestick injuries because it failed to use the safest technology available to them."

OSHA also has issued a citation with a $4,900 fine for one serious violation that involves failing to review and update an exposure control plan; document the evaluation and implementation of appropriate, commercially available and effective medical devices designed to minimize occupational bloodborne pathogen exposure; and document employees' hepatitis B vaccination status.

Detailed information about bloodborne pathogen hazards and needlestick prevention is available online at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/bloodbornepathogens/index.html.

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