Medical waste is defined as waste that is a by-product of healthcare treatments at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and surgeries, dentists, and laboratories as well as veterinarian’s offices, tattoo establishments, and med spas. Medical waste management includes handling material that comes into contact with the patient’s body during research, diagnosis, drug administration, or other types of medical treatment.
Medical waste has high regulations regarding disposal because waste materials can transmit infectious diseases if not properly handled. There are many types of medical waste, and these are categorized by the kinds of materials used and waste disposal methods. In the U.S., medical waste is categorized as radioactive, hazardous, infectious, and general.
- Radioactive Waste. Medical equipment and treatment used in cancer therapies or any other radioactive treatment.
- Hazardous Waste. Sharps, scalpels, discarded surgical equipment, and other chemical waste used in treatment.
- Infectious Waste. Waste that causes an infection, including human tissue, blood, or any implement contaminated with bodily fluids.
- General Waste. Waste paper, gowns, masks, gloves, or medical office waste.
In 1988, the U.S. Federal Government passed the Medical Waste Tracking Act. This act set the standards of how medical wastes were disposed of and destroyed. It became necessary to regulate medical wastes when a 30-mile garbage slick composed of medical waste, including needles and empty prescription bottles, prompted closures of New York and New Jersey beaches. Concerned citizens immediately became incensed that such debris would be allowed to “just be thrown away.”
How To Dispose of Medical Waste
Medical waste administration depends on your staff, understanding the different types of medical waste, and your state or area regulations. There are different techniques to ensure that infectious waste is disposed of properly and cannot spread disease or infection to other areas.
No longer can medical waste be disposed of in a landfill. Regulations require specialized treatment. Treatment includes the use of a medical incinerator, which will ensure that all traces of pathogens are destroyed. Other types of medical waste administration include waste disposed of in specific containers, labeled in precise ways, and employees trained to handle medical waste.
There are two distinct categories of medical waste disposal. One is Red Bag, and the other is Sharps. Red Bag is used for contaminated medical material that contains blood or other potentially infectious materials. Medication is not to be disposed of in a red bag.
Sharps containers are colored red, have the proper safety designation on the box, and are for containing hypodermic needles, scalpels, and other sharp objects. Sharps containers must be puncture-resistant, closeable, and kept upright to prevent liquids or sharps from spilling out.
What are Medical Waste Regulations?
Federal regulators include OSHA, DOT, and the EPA, but most state environmental and health safety departments regulate medical waste. OSHA operates medical waste in twenty-nine states. They conduct inspections, enforce standards, and impose fines and levies. Twenty-one states operate their own specific job safety and medical waste disposal regulations, but these standards must be close to federal regulations.
The departments that regulate medical waste management include:
OSHA rules on training employees on medical waste handling and labeling. OSHA also regulates the disposal of sharps.
DOT dictates how medical waste is labeled and packed during transportation. DOT also requires specific hauling licenses on transporting medical waste.
The EPA regulates waste treatment technology and maintains the standards of medical incinerator emissions. However, because of rigid regulation, there are very few incinerators in use in the United States today.
How the EPA manages medical waste depends on how much medical waste a unit produces. For example, a small quantity is around 100 to 1000 kilograms per month. A large quantity generator produces over 1,000 kilograms per month.
Healthcare facilities must register with the government as a Medical Waste Generator depending on the state they practice in and the amount of medical waste they generate. EPA rules for medical waste control include:
- All facilities need to separate medical waste. They need to divide regulated medical waste from general waste.
- Each medical facility is responsible for managing and disposing of their medical waste and ensuring waste is sorted, contained, and disposed of safely and legally.
- Each medical facility must have an employee occupational exposure control plan to minimize employee exposure.
- General precautions must be observed to prevent contact with infectious materials. All body fluids are considered potentially infectious materials.
- If there is the possibility of exposure, the medical facility needs to provide, at no cost, appropriate personal protective equipment. This equipment includes gowns, face shields or masks, eye protection, gloves, and ventilation devices.
- Each medical facility needs to train employees following the requirements of the EPA.
- Vaccinations must be provided for hepatitis B.
Methods of disposal considered acceptable are:
- Incineration for pathological and pharmaceutical waste.
- Autoclaving or microwave radiation is used for sharps. A medical autoclave is a machine that runs at 300 degrees and kills all the bacteria and germs found in red bag waste. There must be a paper trail and documentation that medical waste was disposed of by autoclaving.
- Taking care of radioactive wastes. Radioactive waste must be disposed of to ensure that the patients, workers, the public, and the environment are not exposed to radioactive material. Hospitals and clinics that use radioisotopes for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures must have the infrastructure and resources to keep radiation levels within these prescribed safe limits.
- Chemical decontamination Is used for blood and fluid waste. Chemical decontamination before disposal means making medical waste safe through sterilization and the use of disinfectants.
Medical workers must be aware of and trained in regulations. However, it is still dependent on the doctors or medical clinics whether or not they comply with OSHA laws. OSHA administers fines that are very steep, and the consequences are severe if a doctor’s office or hospital is found to be negligent over medical waste disposal.
The consequences of noncompliance are high, and your medical business could suffer from non-compliance issues. Find a full-service medical waste management company that will help you through the requirements of how to handle medical waste. Keep in mind:
- Medical waste administration companies need to be properly insured and permitted to handle medical waste.
- Drivers need to be trained.
- Medical waste companies need to provide clients with the right paperwork, including a bill of lading.
Work with a company that knows both the state and federal regulations. Laws vary from state to state, and an experienced company will keep you up to date on regulations. Medical waste coordination is important, and all staff members need to be trained in the latest regulations. There are workshops provided by individual states that will train employees on how to handle medical waste, properly dispose of waste, and what type of containers need to be used.