Proper Disposal of Medical Waste: Crucial Things to Note
The reality is there are a lot of things that can potentially go wrong when disposing of medical waste. This is true whether you're in a hospital/medical office setting or at home. Therefore, to ensure proper disposal and overall safety, best practices must be observed, to the fullest extent, wherever you are. With that being said, all healthcare professionals and in-home care personnel should be fully apprised of medical waste discarding procedures concerning the collection, storage, transportation, and disposal. If you and your team need a refresher course by chance, then you've come to the right place. Here's a general synopsis of best practices regarding medical waste.
Training your employees and staff members thoroughly is important. With the right training, waste can be properly handled, labeled, packaged, and safely removed from the premises. How do you know if the necessary training has been provided? Well, that's a great question-that deep down, you already know the answer to. Since you're going over the best practices now, one might assume that it has been a while since anyone cracked open the medical waste disposal and training manual. If this sounds right, we understand. However, now is the perfect time to reach out to your local waste disposal provider, and ask about their available training. If you don't have a waste disposal provider already lined up, it might just be time to visit MedPro Disposal online or call for further assistance.
A Clear Understanding of What Qualifies as Medical Waste
While you're setting up additional training, it's highly recommended that you check-in with your staff to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what qualifies as medical waste. Moreover, both you and your employee should absolutely know what type of waste your facility or office is producing. That said, medical garbage or debris is essentially healthcare trash that may or may not contain potentially infectious materials and items. Prime examples of said healthcare trash include bodily fluids, tissue from humans or animals, discarded laboratory cultures, used needles, soiled personal protection equipment, and more.
The Right Classification
Once everyone is on the same page about what type of waste your company produces, you should make sure all your employees know the difference between regulated and non-regulated medical waste. Typically, at least 85% of healthcare trash is classified as non-hazardous, and roughly 15% of medical trash is actually hazardous. Thus, you and your employees must know the difference. Remember, items like gloves, towels, and cotton swabs aren't classified as regulated waste until they come in contact with biomedical materials or substances of some kind, and subsequently become capable of easily transmitting infectious agents.
Being Familiar with Medical Waste Laws
By now, you're probably aware that there are more than a few medical waste laws, which for the most part, vary from state to state. Plus, there are federal, state, and local agencies (EPA, OSHA, DOT, and DEA-just to name a few) that govern healthcare trash disposal. As a result, it's in your best interest to know your specific medical waste laws and how they will impact your day-to-day operations. Furthermore, all healthcare staff should be well-aware of which rules apply before prep, storage, or transportation of any waste occurs.
Another invaluable best practice is properly separating medical waste by type. As trivial as it sounds, not separating waste correctly can lead to a host of problems down the road. For instance, "sharps," or medical waste that can easily puncture the skin (or a plastic bag), must be put into puncture-proof receptacles. Failing to do so will only increase the risk of possible contamination and injury. Ultimately, all regulated biohazardous trash should be stored in red bags, other than sharps and liquids over 25 milliliters.
Along those same lines, placement of biohazardous receptacles, bags, and containers matters a great deal. Consequently, all healthcare staff should make sure the red bag bins have lids that close correctly, and that all liquid containers are leak-proof. Also, regarding placement, or rather, storage, it's helpful to know your alternative storage options. For example, some medical waste can be stored in certified cardboard boxes, while other types of trash can be stored in designated or special tubs. Many of these alternative storage options lock for more secure transport.
Prep and Documentation
In addition to appropriate placement, it's beneficial to prepare all waste containers. This means carefully sealing or taping all bags/boxes before shipment. Moreover, following the prep guidelines that are typically listed on the bag will ensure that the medical waste doesn't leak or spill. Obviously, this is important in preventing any contamination during shipment, but also later on in the overall disposal process. After the prep work has been completed, double-check the Department of Transportation (DOT) packaging rules. Doing so can save you time and money, and it will allow you to ship out your medical waste right the first time. Once you've met the DOT weight restrictions and packaging suggestions, attach the right documentation to your shipment. The correct documentation will ensure everyone's safety and prevent any transfer or discarding faux pas (each shipment must have the complete and accurate paperwork in order to be disposed of).
Following the World Health Organization's (WHO) color-coding system will also prevent any mishaps during shipment and disposal. Remember, only 15% of medical waste is hazardous. Thus, the actual hazardous waste must make it to its appropriate destination. It's also equally important that this somewhat small percentage of toxin/dangerous waste doesn't accidentally get mixed up with the 85% non-hazardous waste. All in all, color coding helps streamline this part of the process and is therefore highly recommended. If you'd like to know more about the WHO's color-coding system, check out their better healthcare waste management guidelines.
Don't Overfill Receptacles
As briefly mentioned, an often-understated best practice of medical waste disposal is following the prep recommendations on biohazardous containers and red bags. If people actually paid better attention to these listed guidelines, they would know that overfilling waste receptacles is a big no-no. In fact, your red bags should never be more than ¾ full before shipment and disposal. The reasoning behind this is an overfilled bag is more likely to spill or not close properly. This can be especially dangerous when dealing with sharps and radioactive/chemical substances. Thus, it almost goes without saying that it's in your best interest to keep containers covered/sealed once they are ¾ full to prevent overfilling.
Regular Maintenance and Collection Schedule
A few more practices regarding medical waste include routine maintenance and following a specific collection schedule. By performing regular maintenance, the potential for injury or contamination is greatly reduced. Therefore, if you see a biohazard bin with a broken lid, you should order a new one immediately. Likewise, if you notice a sharps receptacle has the potential to fall over into a biohazard bin or a regular trash bin, you should do something about it. Other helpful maintenance tips to remember include having a specific person spot check all waste containers often, and providing a large standard trash bin near any biohazardous receptacles to ensure that your employees place actual trash/garbage into the right container. Moreover, adhering to a strict collection schedule ensures that medical waste isn't sitting around for days. This can be very problematic in warm states or during warmer months. All biohazardous waste should be stored in dry, cool places and far from everyday operations or foot traffic.
Selecting a Trusted Waste Disposal Provider
Lastly, selecting a trusted waste disposal provider is definitely worth its weight in gold. As you can see, there are a whole host of rules, regulations, and procedures to observe. As a result, keeping track of everything can be difficult, to say the least. This is why it's important to work with an experienced, knowledgeable, and trusted healthcare trash disposal provider or contractor. Not only can they keep you on track and up to code, but they can also help prevent major catastrophes. If you don't have a trusted waste disposal provider or are looking for a new disposal contractor, start by looking in your area. Remember, you want to work with a company that understands your needs, ultimately has your back, and knows all about the guidelines that apply to your local industry or area.
At the end of the day, these are just a few of the best practices for medical waste collection, storage, transportation/shipment, and disposal. Nonetheless, even if you can only manage to observe these practices mentioned above, you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to stay on top of your healthcare waste and medical trash.