Photo by Amanda Woodrow.

Ryerson’s six-month pilot project to safely put away used needles in disposable containers throughout campus washrooms kicked off this week.

Sharps, or used needles, are a growing concern on campus. According to Geeta Sharma, director of environment, health, safety (EHS) and risk management. “Ryerson’s front-line employees from security and facilities management and development (FMD) were discovering discarded needles in garbage bins, on the floor, as well as flushed down the toilet.”

To address this health and safety risk, Ryerson has trained all front-line employees how to safely handle sharps through training, tools, and protection.

“We do not want our students and staff touching used needles. That is why we have asked all members of the Ryerson community to contact FMD or security if a needle is found. Community members should not attempt to handle found needles themselves,” advised Sharma in a report on the pilot project.

The initiative is primarily aimed at keeping Ryerson safe to all members within the community, including students, staff, and anyone using campus facilities.

Sharma is optimistic about the outcome of the project. “Our hope is that anyone that needs to dispose of their used needle will act responsibly and use the sharps containers,” “Every needle that is dropped in the container is one less stray needle that the Ryerson community is exposed to, which is a positive outcome,”

Dr. Trevor Hart is a clinical psychology professor at Ryerson and director of the HIV prevention lab. Hart commits his time to community-engaged research, promoting sexual health among populations with higher risks of HIV and those living with it.

He said the initiative is a good one and should be evaluated further. However, he disagrees with the application of using washrooms for these ‘safe’ spaces. “We must ask ourselves two questions: one is ‘How do we protect those people who do not use drugs?’ and two is, ‘How do we reduce harm to those who inject, who are associated with drug use?’”

According to Hart, washrooms are not the ideal environment for drug users to reduce harms. He also says they aren’t ideal for non-users who may become uncomfortable that they are so close to a user.

But, he is optimistic for the fulfilment of more safe spaces to inject drugs on campus. Similarly to Sharma, his main concern is safety.

“If the pilot project is successful and we can eliminate stray needles on campus, we will all be safer for it.”

By the start of February, Ryerson will have 18 washrooms on campus with these disposal containers. Some of the prominent locations include: Eric Palin Hall, Jorgenson Hall, Kerr Hall, the Student Learning Centre (SLC), and the Victoria Building.

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