- Starbucks is installing needle-disposal boxes in some bathrooms, as well as exploring other solutions to workers’ concerns regarding improperly discarded syringes and the related health risks.
- More than 3,700 people signed a petition on Coworker.org, calling for Starbucks to place needle-disposal boxes in high-risk bathrooms.
- Starbucks workers reported finding blood and needles in bathrooms, as well as being pricked by improperly discarded needles, risking exposure to HIV and hepatitis.
- The decision to install needle-disposal or “sharps” boxes in Starbucks locations could help prompt change in the restaurant industry, making workers’ jobs safer amid the opioid epidemic
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.
“These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations, which is why we have protocols and resources in place to ensure our partners are out of harm’s way,” Starbucks representative Reggie Borges told Business Insider.
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.
“My coworkers and I had all experienced needles left behind in the bathroom, store, and even in our drive-thru,” said one person who signed the petition after working at a Starbucks location in Lynnwood, Washington, for three years. The three Starbucks employees who spoke with Business Insider for this article asked to either remain anonymous or to be referred to by only their first name, in order to speak frankly.
“My primary fear when I worked there would be taking out the bathroom garbages,” the former employee, who quit in 2018, told Business Insider. “I was terrified that if I went to take the bag out, I would get poked by a needle I didn’t know was there.”
Bathrooms as a battleground
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.
“I can’t emphasize enough that if our partners are ever in a position where they don’t feel comfortable completing a task, they are empowered to remove themselves from the situation and alert their manager, ” Borges said. “As we always do, we are constantly evaluating our processes and listening to partner feedback of ways we can be better.”
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.