Kate Taylor, Business Insider, January 9, 2019
Starbucks is installing boxes for safe disposal of syringes in the bathrooms of certain locations, following workers’ reports of discarded needles and sometimes concerning conditions.
The coffee giant is exploring remedies after employees expressed fears about being pricked by uncapped needles and experiencing related health risks. Starbucks is testing solutions, including installing sharps-disposal boxes, using heavier-duty trash bags to prevent needle pokes, and removing trash cans from certain bathrooms.
As of Wednesday, more than 3,700 people have signed a petition on Coworker.org, calling for Starbucks to place needle-disposal boxes in high-risk bathrooms.
Starbucks trains employees on how to safely deal with hypodermic needles. According to the company, any employee who feels unsafe performing a task is encouraged to speak with his or her manager and will not be made to perform the action.
However, some workers said that in the fast-paced workplace, policies are sometimes ignored, and inadvertent needle pricks remain a problem.
In October, three Starbucks employees in Seattle told local news that they encountered hypodermic needles on the job nearly every day. They said they had to take antiviral medications to protect themselves from HIV and hepatitis.
Following the incident, Starbucks began installing sharps boxes in certain Seattle locations. Sharps boxes are containers that allow people to safely discard needles, syringes, and lancets that might otherwise pierce a trash bag and poke workers.
While not every Starbucks location has the same issues, baristas across the US have expressed concerns about needles and other disturbing materials found in bathrooms — a common problem in the restaurant industry.
The issues surrounding baristas who deal with syringe disposal and needle pricks are symptomatic of a problem that extends far beyond Starbucks.
In a study led by Brett Wolfson-Stofko for New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, 58% of the 86 New York City business managers surveyed said they had encountered drug use in their businesses’ bathrooms. Another Center for Drug Use and HIV Research study of 15 service-industry workers found that a significant majority had encountered drug use, syringes, or both in bathrooms while on the job.
According to Wolfson-Stofko, installing sharps containers is one of the first things that businesses can do to keep workers safe and help them avoid contact with improperly discarded syringes. Wolfson-Stofko also suggested that companies can support in-store workers by providing training on how to deal with overdosing customers and supporting the installation of supervised injection facilities in their community.
Are open-bathroom policies to blame?
Starbucks is in a unique position because, unlike many other chains, its bathrooms are not for paying customers only. In May, Starbucks announced plans to open up its bathrooms to everyone, sparking some concerns about whether doing so could make the stores less safe.
“I think the bathroom policy has definitely changed the store’s environment,” one manager who works at a Starbucks location in Southern California told Business Insider. “It’s great that Starbucks wants to try and include everyone, but that means that they include absolutely everyone.”
According to the manager, workers have been forced to close down the location’s restrooms a number of times after finding drugs, needles, or blood. Despite workers’ care in cleaning bathrooms, at least one worker was pricked by a stashed needle, the manager said.
However, other employees said they felt that the issues predated the new bathroom policy.
According to Wolfson-Stofko, there has been minimal research into how Starbucks’ new policy may have impacted bathrooms’ safety. More generally, he said that most bathroom policies — such as keeping doors locked or providing unlock codes on receipts — simply give workers an “illusion of control.”