Medical waste comprises any types of waste produced from healthcare work and generally comes in two forms: infectious/medical and non-infectious/general waste. These forms of waste are generated by medical institutions including hospitals, clinics, laboratories, and blood banks. If not appropriately managed, medical waste can become hazardous to staff and nearby communities.
Here are some tips for managing different types of medical waste to ensure they do not pose a risk to healthcare employees and the public.
Non-Infectious and General Waste
Non-infectious waste is waste that has not been contaminated by blood or other bodily fluids. Common examples include non-bloody gloves or IV bags. Typically, this type of waste can be disposed of in the usual way — for example, via a bin. However, protocols should be carefully observed to ensure proper waste disposal safety.
Unlike toxic waste, this type of waste can be discarded alongside regular garbage and does not need to be disinfected. However, staff should be trained to distinguish between both infectious and non-infectious waste and dispose of them accordingly.
Infectious and Medical Waste
This type of waste is related to any waste that may be contaminated or in contact with blood, bodily fluids, and other potentially infected materials (OPIM). Disposal of this type of waste requires specialised clinical waste containers, such as a sharps container or a biohazard container.
Handling and storing sharps
Sharps refer to any device or object that can puncture or lacerate the skin. The list includes needles, syringes, disposable scalpels, and other types of needles or blades made of glass, metal, or plastic. As such, regular plastic garbage bags would be ineffective against these objects.
Sharps containers are specifically designed to house these prickly objects. These containers are sealable, self-locking, rigid, and are resistant to punctures. Proper care and procedure should be observed at all times when handling a sharps container.
Employees must ensure that each sharps container has the words “Sharps Waste” labelled on them or have the appropriate symbols. Sharps containers should have a designated storage area to minimise the risk of an accident. Additionally, each container should not be full or overcrowded with sharp objects. Instead, the container should be filled to half of its capacity to prevent the container from becoming a potential hazard.
Anyone handling sharps should strictly adhere to stringent hospital or safety protocols to ensure maximum safety. This type of waste should also be disposed of regularly.
Handling and storing biohazardous waste
Biohazardous waste is waste contaminated with potentially infectious material deemed a threat to the environment and public. Types of this waste include dry biohazardous waste (contaminated Petri dishes and contaminated waste from infectious humans/animals) as well as liquid biohazardous waste (blood and bodily fluids).
Using designated biohazard containers would be the most effective way to manage this type of waste. These containers have the words “biohazardous waste” imprinted on them and are usually red or yellow. Biohazardous waste should be placed in these bags and stored until collected by a licensed biohazardous waste transporter.
Medical waste containers should be kept upright throughout storage, easily accessible to staff, and should not be overflowing. During transportation, handlers must ensure they are moved carefully. Moreover, all containers should be checked before use. Ensure they are equipped with a tight-fitting cover, closable, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, and clean to minimise risks.
Reduce contamination risks by creating a hygienic environment, supplying PPEs (personal protective equipment) to workers, and providing vaccines (such as the hepatitis B vaccine) to those in contact with infectious waste. Furthermore, staff and employees can also participate in additional activities and training to increase safety standards and prevent work-related injuries and accidents. Minimum standards should also be established and be adhered to for maximum safety.
However, accidents can still happen. If someone is exposed to potentially harmful medical waste, here’s what they can do:
- remain calm and refrain from panic
- immediately take action to prevent further exposure and limit contact with others
- wash and clean the area of exposure/wound with effective soap and warm water or antiseptic cleaners
- remove clothing that has been exposed to the hazardous material using latex gloves, taking care to avoid contact with skin
- place contaminated clothing in a leak-proof bag and follow established protocols
- report the incident
- go for the appropriate treatment and care
It’s crucial to adopt appropriate safety measures and proper clinical waste containers to deal with the various types of medical waste. By handling medical waste properly, we can create a safe and healthy environment for both the medical institutions and the public.