Medical waste is a growing issue for many hospitals and medical waste producers, which may sometimes struggle to keep up with sudden growth in produced medical waste.
The combination of regulations that organizations need to follow — along with the increased volume of waste — make efficient and cost-effective disposal a challenge. Fortunately, there are best practices that can significantly streamline the collection, transport and disposal of medical waste, allowing every worker involved in the process to stay compliant with regulations.
Here are some essential tips for facilities that need to transport and for dispose medical waste.
Medical waste regulations are complex, and multiple agencies — including the CDC, FDA and OSHA — have guidance in place regarding medical waste. All 50 states also have medical waste procedures in place, which can sometimes differ from federal standards.
There are several categories of medical waste, and each is subject to different requirements about how it needs to be contained, labeled and transported. Infectious waste — refuse contaminated by blood, bodily fluids or any other materials that could infect and harm human beings — is considered regulated waste, and workers will need to transport it in compliant containers with red bag liners. This infectious waste includes gloves and other PPE used by staff who have come into contact with ill patients, like those with the seasonal flu.
Completing a waste audit will let you know precisely what kinds of waste your facility is producing — allowing you to budget correctly and prepare for that waste transportation and disposal.
Medical waste generators are responsible for identifying and properly packaging the waste they create. If you don’t accurately identify the kind of refuse your facility produces, your staff may not be able to label or containerize it properly. Waste disposal facilities will typically return improperly packaged waste to the facility that generated it or deny pickup altogether.
Biohazardous waste generators need to dispose of their waste within specific timeframes. If this waste is kept on site for too long after production, the facility that generated it can risk reclassification or fines. As a result, some facilities may need to include information about when they produced the waste to ensure compliance with regulations.
Sharps are another special consideration. Under OSHA regulations, you may need to dispose of them in special sharps disposal containers that are puncture-proof and have leak-proof sides and bottoms.
Some waste, however, doesn’t need special treatment and can be disposed of alongside other solid and non-hazardous waste generated by your facility. If you can identify this waste and separate it from regulated refuse, it may be possible to save on overall transportation and disposal costs, as well as reduce the labor necessary.
You may be surprised by how much it costs to put together a robust waste disposal program. When planning the budget, use operating costs from previous years if they are available. You shouldn’t take this number as an exact figure, but it can inform disposal budgeting and give you a better idea of how much specific steps in the waste disposal process will cost. You should be aware of the different factors your operating budget will need to cover — like waste collection cost, disposal fees and the price of consumer energy or water. You’ll also need to consider charges that are commonly forgotten or overlooked — like the price tags of raw materials, labor, etc.
Keeping accurate, clear and up-to-date disposal records is key in both staying compliant and demonstrating compliance to relevant regulators. Some documents, like signed hazardous waste manifests, must also be kept by waste generators for a length of time to comply with some regulations.
Depending on the type of waste you produce, the information that you need to track change. Some necessary information — like the type of waste, where you created it and when — will always be relevant, but you may need to adapt your record-keeping to handle regulations.
Good record-keeping can also help you with budgeting. If you know the exact volume of waste that your facility produces on average and are maintaining records and receipts of disposal costs, it will be much easier to estimate how much waste disposal will cost in the future.
Information about your facility’s waste is most useful in the hands of employees who are regularly dealing with it. Proper employee training and standard protocols for how employees across your facility should handle medical waste will help simplify the disposal process. Proper training can also reduce the risk of improper disposal or mistakes that may push your facility out of compliance with regulations.
In training, your employees — including staff that work directly with the waste and the drivers who transport it — should be taught relevant regulations they will need to follow. If your facility generates sharps, staff who handle waste in any capacity may require specialized training to avoid injuring themselves and others.
The problem of medical waste will continue to be a growing challenge for most medical facilities. The consequences of failing to comply with medical waste regulations can be severe. Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce the risk of making mistakes in waste disposal with the right practices.
A waste audit that identifies the type of refuse your facility produces is a great start and will provide information you can pass on to employees via disposal training. Good record keeping will also be extremely helpful in managing your facility’s waste disposal. Plus, the records you generate can inform disposal program budgeting in the future.
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