Our customer service and safety compliance teams work diligently to assist customers (and potential customers) like you in understanding how to avoid hazards and risks commonly encountered in medical waste disposal. Below are 19 medical waste DON’Ts that these teams have identified.
1. DON’T put sharps directly into red bags.
Loose needles and other sharps can puncture bags, boxes, and other containers that aren’t engineered for sharps. A sharp that has penetrated a bag or container can cause acute injury and/or risk of bloodborne pathogens (BBP), such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis B virus (HBV), transmission.
DO place sharps into FDA-approved, puncture-resistant, and properly marked sharps containers. Disposable sharps containers that are not gasketed should be properly closed and placed in a bag and secondary packaging (such as a box or reusable container) for final transport and disposal.
2. DON’T overlook other sharps besides needles and syringes.
Needles and syringes aren’t the only sharp objects that you should dispose of in sharps containers. Broken glass, capillary tubes, glass pipettes, lancets, and scalpel blades must be placed in sharps containers as well. Likewise, exposed dental wires, root canal files, and trauma scene wastes that can cut or pierce are considered sharps waste.
DO place all sharps in a sharps container to protect people from injury and disease.
3. DON’T overfill your sharps containers.
Overflowing sharps containers threaten the safety of employees and patients alike. Employees may risk injury when adding yet one more sharp to the sharps container.
DO replace containers when your sharps reach the fill-line on the container.
4. DON’T allow your keys or cell phone to fall into your medical waste.
Yes, this really happens. Irretrievable electronics can be heard chiming among biohazardous containers on trucks. Keys are also lost in medical waste.
DO ensure your keys, cell phone, and other personal items are nowhere near the medical waste containers — especially when packaging the waste for disposal.
5. DON’T place pharmaceuticals in medical waste.
Best practice is to dispose of pharmaceuticals in special pharmaceutical waste containers. Complicated regulations also dictate the disposal of different types of pharmaceutical waste, potentially in separate containers. A competent vendor can help you determine how to dispose of pharmaceutical waste.
DO seek guidance on the types of pharmaceuticals you have and how they should be disposed of in a way that protects people and the environment and is in compliance with federal and state regulations.
6. DON’T toss mercury-containing materials with any other waste.
Not in with the medical waste. Not in the garbage. Not in the drain. Not down the toilet. Not with other RCRA-hazardous wastes. Not in sharps containers. Mercury, dental amalgam, amalgam capsules, extracted teeth with amalgam fillings, dental traps, thermometers, and aneroid blood pressure devices must be disposed of as mercury hazardous waste or handled as items that are being sent for reclamation.
DO use special RCRA-hazardous waste containers and mailback programs that have been designed for proper mercury disposal or reclamation.
7. DON’T put aerosols, alcohol, or chemicals into medical waste.
Aerosols are combustible. Rubbing alcohol is flammable. Chemicals are not biohazardous wastes. These are all examples of RCRA-hazardous wastes that must be disposed of separately from medical waste.
DO seek expert guidance on the disposal of any chemicals you may have collected — no matter how small the volume.
8. DON’T place x-ray waste in the trash.
Some x-ray waste is also RCRA-hazardous waste and must be disposed of as such. Much of this waste stream is also recyclable, so protect the environment and help preserve precious resources by looking for alternative options.
DO properly dispose of lead foil, fixer, and developer. Check with your waste vendor and local regulatory waste authorities for guidance.
9. DON’T leave waste containers open.
Open waste containers pose a risk for the transmission of potentially infectious disease and diversion.
DO keep waste containers closed when not in use. And do position waste and sharps containers so that patients, especially pediatric patients, cannot be placed in danger by putting their hands into sharps or medical waste containers.
10. DON’T leave full waste containers unsealed.
Full waste containers can topple and spill their potentially infectious content.
DO seal the top of full corrugated boxes with tape. For auto-locking boxes, engage the top flaps. Secure the lid, and engage all closures and locking mechanisms on your reusable container. Be sure to perform this function for any container ready for transport.
11. DON’T allow the red bag to protrude from sealed containers.
The red bag should not be visible after the container has been sealed. This is considered an improperly closed package and is a DOT violation.
DO ensure the red bag is fully inside the container, so it will not pose a risk during transport and disposal.
12. DON’T forget to label your containers.
All containers must be tracked to comply with transport and disposal requirements.
DO label medical waste containers with proper federal (and sometimes state or local) requirements. Bar code labels may also be available depending on your location.
13. DON’T allow corrugated containers to become wet.
Leaky containers cannot be accepted on trucks. Don’t pour liquids in your medical waste containers. Keep the outsides of your containers away from wet boots, puddles, and inclement weather. Not only will moisture weaken corrugated boxes, but it’s impossible to determine whether any resulting seepage is from the inside or outside of the container.
DO keep containers dry — on the inside and outside. Make sure you don’t have bulk liquids in your containers.
14. DON’T move your medical waste.
If your facility moves to a new location, don’t take your medical waste with you.
DO ensure that a properly permitted medical waste hauler receives your sharps and biohazardous waste for transport before you move.
15. DON’T hire a medical waste hauler that is not properly permitted.
You are responsible for the disposal of your wastes. Some companies may not be fully compliant with federal and or state/local regulations, and you can be fined for their mistakes, putting your business and reputation at risk.
DO engage a reputable and compliant service for transporting your medical waste.
16. DON’T ignore required training.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires documented annual bloodborne pathogens training for anyone who may be at risk of exposure to disease-causing germs that are potentially present in medical waste. Exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other infectious diseases is a current focus of OSHA — especially in nursing homes and residential care facilities. Anyone offering hazardous materials for transport is required to be properly trained according to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. These are just two examples of required training, and many other types of training may apply.
DO check the regulations which apply to you and your employees and make sure you are covering all important information and that you are tracking and documenting training.
17. DON’T ignore provided compliance tools.
A valued partner will provide you with online (and in-person) training options.
DO ask your medical waste vendor what tools they provide to help you stay in compliance. Find out how often these tools are updated and investigate the quality of your available resources.
For example, Stericycle offers its customers the opportunity to choose services that easily:
- Fulfill requirements for bloodborne pathogens training
- Build mandatory safety plans
- Schedule pickups
- Participate in quality safety trainings
- Attend informative webinars
18. DON’T forget to schedule your annual evaluation with your certified occupational safety specialist if you are a Steri-Safe Preferred Customer.
DO schedule your annual occupational safety checkup as soon as possible. If you are a Steri-Safe Preferred Customer your service agreement includes an annual site evaluation from a Stericycle certified occupational safety specialist. The specialist will:
- Conduct a simulated OSHA evaluation
- Provide bloodborne pathogens training, and
- Help guide you on important safety tips and resources that will keep you compliant
Additionally, Stericycle Steri-Safe Preferred Customers receive a “NO FINE. NO FAIL. Guarantee.” Follow the Steri-Safe Preferred plan, and Stericycle will pay any potential OSHA fines relating to BBP training and medical waste practices.
19. DON’T think that fines can’t affect you.
OSHA fines can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
DO follow best practices, be aware of all relevant regulations, and remain compliant with all federal, state, and local requirements.
Always follow the best practices of your facility and comply with local, state, and federal requirements.