The local government sector is a significant employer and contractor of workers whose activities may involve exposure to community sharps. While local councils may have little or no control over the behaviour of groups or individuals in public places, they should still take all reasonable precautions to minimise risks to employees and members of the public arising from such behaviour.
As is the case for all employers, compliance with the provisions of the OHS Regulation by local councils presupposes that the risk of needlestick injury in the workplace has been identified, assessed, and either eliminated, or the risk of harm controlled to the lowest possible level.
This may be achieved by providing community sharps disposal facilities, through development of council policies that avoid exposing employees to situations of risk, and by providing employees with expertise, training and equipment to safely deal with risks that might reasonably occur in the execution of their normal duties.
For this reason, local councils should ensure that employees and contractors who may be exposed to community sharps in the workplace receive training in sharps awareness and sharps handling. Where appropriate, they should be provided with sharps containers conforming to AS 4031‑1992. Higher risk activities include waste services, cleansing, drainage, parks/gardens and lifeguard services.
Community sharps that are collected in community sharps disposal facilities, or as a result of the workplace activities of local council employees should be managed as sharps waste. This includes disposal only to treatment premises that hold an environment protection licence permitting the receipt of sharps waste.
By selecting appropriate means to manage workplace risks, and exercising due diligence in the implementation of control measures, local councils can demonstrate compliance with their OHS obligations.
The WorkCover NSW publication Due Diligence at Work provides information and checklists on the key elements of due diligence for employers, including the responsibilities of employers for the health or safety of contractor's employees. It is available from the WorkCover Publications Hotline on 1300 799 003, or visit the WorkCover NSW website at http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/ .
The NSW Workplace Safety Summit held in July 2002 was convened to help achieve the goal that every employee in NSW should feel safe and be safe at work. Five areas form the framework for strategies to achieve safer workplaces:
- understanding hazards and risks
- strengthening workplace safety/accountability
- promoting new solutions
- making our communities safer
- designing safer workplaces.
Each of these focus areas has direct application to the achievement of safer workplaces and communities through improved management of community sharps.