- Starbucks has agreed to install needle-disposal boxes in high-risk store bathrooms after nearly 4,000 people signed a petition on coworker.org, according to Business Insider.
- After receiving reports that employees were scraped and poked by used needles or fear that happening to them, Starbucks is looking into other solutions like using heavier-duty trash bags and removing trash cans from certain bathrooms, Business Insider reports.
- "Employees risk getting poked, and [do] get poked, even when following 'protocol' of using gloves and tongs to dispose of used needles left in bathrooms, tampon disposal boxes, and diaper changing stations," the petition said.
The opioid epidemic has hit American employers hard over the past several years. Employees battling addiction may incur frequent absences and be disengaged or unproductive when they do show up. A recent study concluded that the epidemic has cost the U.S. $1 trillion since 2011; much of that total reflects lost wages, productivity and tax revenues. Drug addiction also drives up employers' healthcare costs. From a talent management perspective, recruiters in hard-hit areas are having trouble finding sufficient skilled labor to fill job openings.
As the new petition shows, however, even indirect effects of drug abuse — such as discarded needles — can have a big impact on employee retention, safety and morale. Last fall, three Starbucks baristas in Seattle told a local television station that they dealt with discarded hypodermic needles at work on a near-daily basis.
Employers may worry about the "optics" of needle-disposal boxes in a non-medical setting such as a customer restroom. Employers, however, have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must do the following, in addition to carrying out other responsibilities:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act.
- Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards.
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment.
- Warn employees of potential hazards.
- Keep records of work-related illnesses and injuries.
Employers have been working to address other safety issues in recent months, as well. In October 2018, the National Safety Council found that most workers feel tired at work, which increases the potential of on-the-job accidents and injuries. Experts suggest that managers and employees could benefit from training to recognize symptoms of fatigue and stress so they can intervene before consequences occur. Separately, workplace violence was named as a top workplace issue in a recent survey by Xpert HR. Training has emerged as the best preventative solution for this issue, as well; e-learning courses can teach employees what constitutes workplace violence, the signs of violence and how to prevent it. Harassment also can threaten employees' at-work safety. In fact, employers may be liable for inappropriate harassment of employees by customers. Good-faith investigations and follow-ups after an employee makes a complaint can help an employer prevent or prevail against subsequent litigation. Employers also may want to note that harassment is on OSHA's radar, and could one day fall under the agency's purview, forcing employers to take a more preventative approach.