Within healthcare facilities, it should come as no surprise that there’s a large amount of medical waste generated daily, whether the facility in question is a doctor’s office, a veterinary practice, a dental surgery, or a hospital. What may be more unexpected for some is the knowledge that scientific laboratories and medical research centers also accumulate medical waste that requires careful disposal.
As a result of all of this medical waste that’s being generated, there is a substantial need for services that remove and dispose of medical waste in a safe, controlled manner.
Why is the Careful Disposal of Medical Waste Important?
The correct and careful disposal of medical waste is important due to the propensity for illness, infection, and injury resulting from incorrect disposal, in addition to the environmental impact of recklessly disposing of medical waste and equipment. Recent years have witnessed the development of new methods that focus on safety-led, sustainable, and efficient disposal within these facilities, and that are fully tested, combining infection control with waste management.
Prior to the 1980s, there were little to no regulations regarding medical waste, which led to harmful by-products of medical care washing up on beaches around the East Coast of the US. Although the public risk at this stage was far lower than that for medical workers immediately exposed to incorrectly disposed waste, there is still a small amount of risk associated with it, making it important to locate viable solutions to protect healthcare workers, the public, and wildlife/the environment.
Understanding Medical Waste Regulations
Following a federal study conducted in select states on the East Coast in the late 80s and early 90s, it became the responsibility of most states across the US to develop their own waste management techniques and regulations, meaning that whilst regulations exist on a state level, there are nevertheless some regulations at a federal level, with the two occasionally overlapping. This means that remaining compliant can be a difficult process for certain facilities.
However, overall, it is of vital importance that medical waste – which may have come into contact with blood and other bodily fluids – is rendered non-infectious prior to disposal. Additionally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 – which goes beyond state-level regulations – requires that patients’ names and personal information be somehow removed from waste, in an effort to protect the public from healthcare insurance fraud.
Depending on the type of waste generated, there are different solutions required. In the US, this waste is separated into four categories: general, infectious, hazardous, and radioactive. Each category requires its own set of regulations for correct disposal.
For example, items categorized as ‘sharps’ – including scalpels, needles, razor blades, etc. – generally need disposing of in a way that prevents the accidental injury of other healthcare workers and waste managers. Nevertheless, the usage of the sharp item also dictates how it is disposed of: if it has come into contact with any bodily fluid, then it needs to be disposed of as both a sharp item and a potentially infectious piece of waste; if it has been used as a general item – within an office setting, for example – then the main control measures surrounding its disposal relate to its potential for inadvertently causing injury to waste removal workers.
If working in a medical facility, it is vital that you familiarize yourself with both the state and federal regulations regarding the disposal of medical waste – to protect other healthcare workers, the public, and the environment, as well as to ensure that you remain compliant.