Suffolk Custodial Employees Not Issued Masks

By Desirae Gooding

“Humans can be so disgusting.” says Suffolk student, Jeffery Hein, when asked to comment on his unfortunate discovery of what appeared to be a pile of human waste in the sink of the men’s lavatory in the Babylon Student Center. “There have been occasions where people just miss the toilet …” says custodial worker, Matt Bambach, when asked about the specifics of what his job entails. Unfortunate occasions such as these seem to be a part of daily life for many of the custodial staff on Campus – “There’s mostly a lot of vomit, occasionally blood … [feces] ends up on the walls … the floor … the sink.” says Bambach – and, unpleasant sights and smells may not be the only things these men and woman are exposed to as, when asked about the equipment used to depose of bodily waste and various other messes, one important item was surprisingly left off the list – “It would be nice if we had masks,” he says, “We don’t.”

Though many may observe members of the custodial staff hard at work on a frequent basis – many students seem blissfully unaware of the fact that the surgical masks one might use to guard against the potentially harmful effects of disinfectants were not issued to employees. Many seem to rate the custodians – in terms of keeping restroom conditions sanitary – fairly well. Child Studies major, Melissa Piropato states that while, “Nothing compares to your own home …” that conditions are, “not too bad,” and has little complaints, save for a few stray scraps of toilet paper littering the floors on occasion. Piropato describes the shocking lack of surgical masks for custodial employees as, “horrible.”

   Under the ‘Public Safety’ tab of the Suffolk County Community College website, there exists a ‘Chemical Hygiene Plan,’ detailing certain safety precautions that must be followed in the event of a chemical emergency in the campus laboratories. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration – or, OSHA as it is commonly referred to – is in charge of regulating many of the laboratories on campus. As stated in the ‘About Us’ section of the organization’s website, OSHA’s main objective is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

Emergency Medical Sevices Major, Joseph Rinehart offers his opinion on the idea of ‘non-issued’ surgical masks, “That’s really dangerous.” He says, “I’m becoming an EMT, and without masks – especially handling bodily fluids, like that – there are so many things you can contract.”

When read in its entirety, Suffolk’s Chemical Hygiene Plan states in detail that members of the custodial staff are not responsible for the clearing of lab counter-tops, upper laboratory surfaces, or for the cleaning of any accidental chemical spills. The plan expressly states that all such responsibilities – including maintenance and repair – fall under the jurisdiction of plant operations. The job of the custodial staff, however, requires the use of certain disinfectants.

   According to the National Resources Defense Council, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many commonly used disinfectants – even those baring labels, such as ‘all-natural’ – may contain the harmful chemicals such phthalates, para-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene, and formaldehyde. Long-term exposure to these chemicals, say these organizations, may cause anything from headaches, ear-infections, skin-irritation, and bronchitis, to damage of the woman’s reproductive organs, birth defects for exposed fetuses, and certain types of cancers. Though many companies, and concerned citizens alike, have pushed for stronger government regulations of these products – as of the beginning of this year – the fight continues.

The term “suitable” springs to the mind of Finance major, Zac Gerfo when asked about the sanitary conditions of public restrooms on campus. “It’s not nasty,” he says, “It gets the job done.” When asked about his opinion regarding the fact that protective face masks did not come standard issue for the custodial staff in charge of maintaining such conditions, the shocked student, in his second year at Suffolk replied: “That’s crazy! It’s not safe at all.”

   When interviewed further, Matt Bambach – working under the title of Custodial Worker II – stated quite frequently that safety was his main concern while ‘on the job.’ “You’ve gotta use gloves …” he stated, “… be careful – you don’t wanna shower in the stuff. Disinfect – disinfectant is pretty important …” Of the most important aspect of his job, however, Bambach states – “It’s most important to protect yourself, and others … prevent others from getting sick.” Both the students and the staff on Campus hope that in the near future, further protection will be offered to those men and woman who – on a daily basis – help keep the hallways and restrooms sanitary.

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