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“Sharp” Students Improving Farm Safety

by Amy Weakly
The Veterinary Practices program, Occupational Health, and Safety SkillsUSA Team consisting of Seniors Morgan Hastwell, (Adirondack Central School), Kayla Weakley, (Adirondack Central School) and Destiny Mooney, (South Lewis Central School) are striving to improve farm safety.  SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry, working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce.  This team collected information and evaluated the working environment on area farms through tours, interviews, and surveys of farmers.  With these processes, they identified an area of concern for farmers that impacts many farms; sharps disposal.  These young ladies are finding was to help farmers protect themselves, their employees, sanitation workers, and the environment.  Their instructor Blake Place says, “This project really gets me excited because my students are finding a solution to a problem that really exists. They are solving this problem through education and outreach and it is something that can be modeled and applied to other business sectors that may struggle with what to do with these bio safety hazards.”

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Farming is included in the top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the US, in numerous studies. Sharps are just one of the risks involved in farming.  What are sharps?   They are devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin such as needles, syringes, lancets, auto injectors (epinephrine and insulin pens), infusion connection needles/sets (tubing systems with a needle).  Sharps may be used to manage the medical conditions and maintain good health of people or their pets/animals.  There are approximately 9 million syringe users, totaling approximately 3 billion injections per year taking place in the home, in the U.S.  These instruments should never be disposed of by throwing them in trashcans, recycling bins or by flushing them down the toilet.  Proper Sharps disposal isn’t regulated for individual or personal residences or non-business environments.
According to OSHA statistics, approximately 600,000 healthcare personnel incur needle injuries annually: 40% happen after usage and before disposal of the instrument and 15% occur after disposal.  This poses a risk to not only those people and facilities but also to waste management employees, animals, and the environment. When needles, syringes, scalpels, and other sharps are tossed into the normal trash, it introduces risks of infection do to needle sticks/cuts, exposure to diseases and/or drugs, and release of pollutants into the environment.  These numbers not only impact the safety of personnel, they also translate into financial expenses for testing, treatment, and follow up care.  The current drug epidemic our communities are facing is no small consideration in this process.  Many users of illicit drugs are desperate when seeking access to needles and drugs.  The environmental cost of improper sharps disposal is tremendous and the diseases and drugs that may be on those instruments go into our landfills, soil, and waterways.  Animals such as flies, roaches, mice, and rats feed in landfills and are known to carry and spread diseases.  Other scavenger animals are also at risk of contracting or spreading illness.
While individuals using sharps for health care related uses, such as diabetics, are advised on how to best dispose of their supplies; farms are given little guidance in this area. The advice widely given is to place the sharps in a ridged plastic container, such as a laundry detergent container, and write “sharps” on the container. When it’s full, tape the lid on and place it in the regular trash.  This only helps to limit risk to our waste management folks, it certainly does not eliminate it.  The SkillsUSA Team identified this discrepancy and have set their sights on helping to implement more safe collection and disposal processes for these tools.
This team has created informational brochures to help inform farmers about proper sharps disposal and educate their employees.   They have purchased the first batch of sharps containers for distribution.   In addition, they extended their efforts to make this collection and disposal process as convenient and easy for farmers as possible.   The SkillsUSA Team worked diligently with various community businesses/organizations to ensure access to disposal facilities, allowing farms to do the right thing.  They contacted and met with their local legislators to help clarify existing rules and break down barriers.  The team has also been collaborating with area hospitals and transfer sites building bridges to assist in their efforts to help protect the health of people, animals and the environment.  “This project has become bigger than I ever expected,” according to Kayla. “It’s crazy to think how big of a change three young girls can make.”
This effort is completely voluntary on behalf of the farmers and costs nothing for them to participate.  To help kick start the process, the group worked hard to raise money, by hosting can drives and grooming events, to purchase sharps containers. The containers will be distributed, for free, to the first 30 farms to contact them with interest in making this improvement.  Along with the official Sharps container, the farmers will be given information about proper handling of sharps and why it’s important.  They will also be given information regarding where they can drop off the container when it’s full, to assure proper disposal. For more information and to see if your farm is eligible to be one of the first 30 farms please contact (315)377-7345.
The feedback the team has received from the participating farms has been positive.  They feel better knowing the sharps are being properly disposed of and the process is smooth and easy to do.   This team is leading their community to improve processes and protect people, animals, and the environment for the future.  They started this school year with a basic project, thinking it would be like any other school project they had done in the past; define the task, do the research and present the information.  This group of young ladies, from Howard G. Sackett Technical Center, had no idea about the vast impact their project could have and the far reaching consequences of this challenge.
For more information and to see if your farm is eligible to be one of the first 30 farms please contact (315)377-7345.
Amy Weakley owns a small family farm, Barefoot Buffalo Farm in Taberg, NY. She can be reached at dave_amy_weakley@yahoo.com.

Claire Cekander

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