The biohazard necessities

by Tiffany Paczek
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What is the correct way to dispose of biohazardous waste and reduce the risk of contamination in your facility? KELSEY RZEPECKI reports.

There are an estimated 16 billion injections administered globally each year, and not all of the used syringes and needles end up properly disposed of, creating risks of injury and infection, as well as opportunities for reuse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A person who experiences a needlestick injury from a needle used on an infected patient has a 30 percent risk of becoming infected with Hepatitis B, a 1.8 percent risk of Hepatitis C and a 0.3 percent risk of HIV. You can avoid costly citations and prevent harmful exposure by practising proper use of waste containers and biohazard safety labelling.

IMPORTANCE OF WASTE SEGREGATION

Incorrect waste segregation and labelling are among the most common violations for healthcare facilities. Medical waste introduces
an added risk of exposing medical personnel, waste handlers and patients to harmful infections if it’s not managed properly. No matter the type of biohazardous waste, it all has the possibility of being infectious. This is why biohazardous waste can never be put in a regular bin.

In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes the requirement employers must put in place to protect workers who may come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Part of its standard includes consistent labelling and containment of biohazards using bags, containers, and safety labels and signs to reduce the chances of harmful exposure from the facility to the outside world.

CONTAINERS

Biohazard waste is anything that is soaked in blood. A good rule of thumb to follow to determine the type of container to use is to consider the level of risk the waste could have on a person’s well-being. Essentially, the higher the risk the waste poses to humans, the more rigid the container you need. For example, OSHA’s rules for containers that carry regulated waste state that:

  • the container must be closable
  • it must be constructed to prevent leakage and large enough to contain all the contents
  • it must be labelled and colour-coded according to standards
  • it must be closed before removal to prevent spills during handling, transporting, shipping or storage, and
  • if there is outside contamination of the waste container it must be put into a second container.

It’s a good idea to learn the purpose of each biohazard waste container and which method is best to use depending on the nature of the waste.

BIOHAZARD LABELS AND SIGNS

Employers are responsible for clearly communicating biological hazards to employees through warning labels and signs. The biohazard label must be fluorescent orange or red-orange and clearly display the word ‘biohazard’ and the universal biohazard symbol in a contrasting colour (usually black). Apply labels as close as possible to the container with an adhesive, wire, string or other method. Apply labels to:

  • all bags/containers of waste used to store, transport or dispose of blood and other potentially infectious material
  • refrigerators and freezers that store blood or other potentially infectious material pathological waste containers
  • entrance doors to work areas to warn and inform personnel of the presence of biohazards, and
  • any equipment that has come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious material – make sure the label includes information that states which portions of the equipment remain contaminated.

RED MEDICAL WASTE BAGS AND CONTAINERS

Use red bags to dispose of liquid and solid items contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials. If the waste can pour, drip or flake off after drying, store it in a red bag or red colour-coded container at the location it was used.

Sharps: all sharps such as used needles and anything used for cutting and injecting must be stored in a rigid, leak-proof, tamper- proof and puncture-proof container. It can be made from a variety of products, from cardboard to plastic. Label or colour-code the container according to the blood-borne pathogens standard. If leakage is possible, place it in a second container that is closable, which prevents leakage during handling, storing, transport or shipping. Upon closure, you can use duct tape to better secure the lid, as long as it doesn’t serve as the primary lid.

Individual containers of blood: place in a labelled container during storage, transport, shipment or disposal. If leaks are possible, place materials in a secondary container.

Contaminated laundry: put all laundry that’s been in contact with blood or may contain sharps in a red bag. Items include gauze,
gloves, gowns, bedding, bench paper, personal protective equipment (PPE) and more. If laundry is wet and at risk of leaking or soaking through from the bag or container, place the laundry in bags or containers that prevent leakage.

Pathological waste: place any recognisable human or animal organs, body parts and tissues in a red pathological waste container. This consists of a red rigid container with a tight lid with a red bag liner labelled with the universal biohazard symbol.

TIPS FOR MAINTAINING COMPLIANCE

Here are five ways you can maintain safety and compliance with managing biohazards in any facility:

Provide consistent training: teach and train all employees on proper biohazard management to ensure consistency throughout your facility and reduce the chances of human error and harmful exposure.

Maintain your sharps injury log: establish and maintain a sharps injury log for recording injuries due to contaminated sharps. This will allow you to recognise patterns and areas for improvement.

Be mindful of storage areas: different types of waste can be stored in the same room. Prevent mishandling and injuries
by ensuring workers and custodial personnel are aware of the presence of biohazards and how to approach them safely. Clearly label and segregate waste to prevent human error and to maintain efficiency.

Reassess hazards: assess the work environment for any hidden hazards or improper work practices and take the necessary steps to correct them. Safeguard your facility from newfound hazards by conducting refresher training for employees and adding emphasis to problem areas using safety labels and signs.

Assess your safety labels and signs: do a walkthrough to determine if any safety labels or signs need updating, replacing or other maintenance. ●

Kelsey Rzepecki is a copywriter for Graphic Products, maker of the DuraLabel line of industrial label and sign printers. For more information about customised visual communication, visit www.GraphicProducts.com.

This article also appears in the August/September issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: 123RFs Sherry Yates Young © 123RF.com

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