Proper medical waste management is vital in protecting the welfare of our health care workers, staff and patients. Taking a wider view, it is also crucial to the health and safety of our communities and the environment.
Good medical waste management includes proper handling, storage, transport, processing and disposal of waste.
The consequences of negligence in this area can be dire.
“Poor waste management may jeopardize patients and their families, employees handling medical waste, care staff, and the others who come in contact with it,”
reported Your Renewable News. “The inappropriate disposal or treatment of the waste may result in pollution or environmental contamination. These risks can be significantly reduced using appropriate and simple measures.”
When you choose to outsource your medical waste management, you demonstrate a commitment to your workers and to the community. You are guaranteeing that skilled workers who are trained in the safe collection, handling and transportation of medical waste are on the case and doing their part to protect your facility. But even if you outsource your medical waste management, you still have an important role to play in health and safety. Your prime responsibility as a health care facility becomes the proper handling and storage of medical waste before it is picked up and taken off-site.
Managing your medical waste disposal
The rule of thumb with medical waste disposal is timely discard as close to the point of waste generation as possible. That means assessing the types of waste you will generate in a specific setting and then making sure you have the proper, labeled receptacles close at hand. In that assessment, your medical facility should make sure its compliant with your state’s guidelines on what constitutes medical waste. If you are using an off-site medical waste disposal company, make sure they too are up-to-date and compliant on the latest regulations for your state. Check this interactive map of state environmental agencies and list of state health agencies for more information.
Use the right waste receptacles every time
Proper medical waste receptacles and bags should be made of combustible, non-halogenated plastics and should be color-coded and labeled for the type of medical waste they contain. Color coding and labeling helps avoid any confusion among healthcare workers as well as those who handle removing your medical waste to take it off-site. As a reminder of what goes where, post instructions on waste separation and identification at each waste collection site.
Some common medical waste containers.
Chemical and pharmaceutical waste should be disposed in a brown plastic bag or container and general health care waste in a black plastic bag. Infectious waste that comes from lab cultures, surgeries or autopsies on patients with infectious diseases, and infected lab animals should be discarded in strong, leak-proof yellow bags or containers. Infectious waste containers and bags should always be marked with the international infectious substance symbol. If you are handling highly contagious infectious materials, it should be sterilized as soon as possible by autoclaving. Make sure this waste is immediately disposed of in a yellow container capable of being autoclaved.
Consult your medical waste disposal company for more information about guidelines for color-coding and labeling your medical waste, as well as the handling and swift disposal of highly contagious materials.
Proper sharps disposal and the costs you can incur when you don’t comply
Proper sharps disposal is an important component of your overall medical waste disposal plan. “Sharps” are any medical devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut the skin; they include needles, syringes, lancets, and auto injectors like insulin pens.
According to the CDC, “Occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens from needlesticks and other sharps injuries is a serious problem, resulting in approximately 385,000 needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries to hospital-based healthcare personnel each year.” Injuries from sharps are associated with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and more than 20 other pathogens. Everyone from health care workers to janitors and other cleaning personnel can suffer injuries from encounters with improperly discarded sharps.
Beware: Sharps are called sharps because they are… sharp!
Negligence in sharps disposal can also result in steep fines. In April 2016, Cooper Hospital was fined $55,000 by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for various employee training violations, including not teaching them to immediately discard “contaminated sharps, such as needles, in appropriate containers” and improperly labeling their sharps containers.
And the costs don’t stop with fines. According to Waste360, “The CDC estimates that for each needle stick, direct costs can range from $71 to over $5,000 for initial and follow-up treatment. Further direct costs can include medical care should a transmission occur and litigation as well as indirect costs related to lost time and emotional costs.”
Safely dispose your medical sharps/needles
Sharps injuries can be avoided by disposing of each needle properly after its one-time use. Your waste management company will supply you with the appropriate marked containers. The CDC recommends organizing your work area with the sharps disposal containers within reach. They also warn against overfilling the containers and advise workers to keep fingers away from the opening of the receptacle.
Most containers come with a hole to insert the sharps.
Make sure to let other hospital personnel know if you see a needle that has been improperly discarded—in a trash bin or other receptacle that is not labeled as a sealed sharps container. Let someone know immediately
if you see used sharps in linens, beds, or on the floor.
Removal of all medical waste receptacles
It is advisable to remove medical waste receptacles once they are three-quarters full. Good medical waste management companies follow a regular pickup schedule so your waste is never sitting idle for too long, but in some instances you may want to arrange for a special pickup and removal.
By consistently following these simple guidelines, you will not only help your medical waste management partner to better serve you; you will also have peace of mind that you are doing your part in protecting your greatest assets: your staff and patients.