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Be Smart About Sharps

Dealing with needles and other sharps in the workplace is serious business. Whether you’re working in a hospital, doctor’s office, or a tattoo shop, handling sharps within the workplace requires safety protocols in place to protect staff, patients or customers, and anyone handling the biohazardous waste. Having processes in place for sharps management can help reduce the risk of injury, spreading potentially infectious diseases, and avoid large fines for mismanaged sharps. As a waste generator, large or small, it’s important to keep in mind at all times that you are responsible for your medical waste until it’s final disposal. Not properly managing sharps waste or improper packaging puts people at risk, even after it’s been picked up from your facility and during transport to a disposal facility.

Simple Steps For Sharps Safety in the Workplace

With the responsibility in mind that you as the waste generator have for your facility’s regulated waste, here are some steps you and your staff can use to help prevent potential injuries, dangerous exposures, and OSHA non-compliance fines.

Step 1 – Safety Training in the Workplace

Workplace safety training is a significant step to managing sharps safety. Employers or practice managers should ensure all staff and employees are up-to-date and current on their workplace safety training and specific procedures for your workplace. To do so, this may require an assessment of all staffs’ roles and responsibilities that help to determine their training needs. In general, OSHA requires Bloodborne Pathogens, HAZCOM, and HIPAA training annually for those working in healthcare settings. Other trainings may be required depending on each staff member’s role and responsibilities.

Is your staff or employees familiar with your exposure plans and prevention procedures?  It’s necessary to have this information outlined and communicated to all employees in case of a potential exposure or injury caused by needles. They will know exactly what to do and what actions to take. Additionally, executing a safety audit could help identify any deficiencies and steps you can take to improve safer work practices.

Step 2 – Handling Needles with Care

There is no argument that needles and other sharps are dangerous. The risk of injury increases when they’re not handled properly.  It’s important to always follow local, state, and federal guidelines and use precautions when handling sharp objects such as needles. The CDC outlines many safety tips for facilities managing sharps, including knowing where the nearest sharps container is, not uncovering or unwrapping the sharp object until its needed, or keeping your fingers away from the tip of the sharps or device.  These are just a few simple steps you can take to keep you and those around you safe in the workplace.

Even after needles or sharps are in designated sharps containers, handle the sharps container with care in case the container isn’t properly secured.  Needles could become dislodged after sudden movements or jolts when this occurs.

Step 3 – Using the Appropriate Container to Dispose of Sharps

Sharps containers are normally recognizable in color, which is usually red with a biohazard symbol.  They are widely known in the healthcare industry as a container to discard needles and other sharp objects. They must be puncture-proof and safe for disposing of sharps. Never place loose needles directly into the biohazard box/container without being deposited into the disposable sharps container first. They must always be placed in a designated sharps container first.  It’s just as important that your facility is stocked with the right number of sharps containers and that your staff knows where they are located and stored throughout your facility. This may require an assessment of your needs and volume.

Step 4 – Follow the Fill Line

On the exterior label of the sharps container, there is a designated fill line. To avoid overfilling, follow the instructions on the labelling of the sharps container. In doing so, this should allow the container to properly close and keep the contents secure. If you overfill sharps containers, that can cause sharps and other contents of the container to become loose, even after placed in the biohazard box/red bag for disposal. If that were to occur, the loose needles or sharp objects can puncture the biohazard box. This puts anyone handling the waste at risk including staff members, employees, and your medical waste management partner.

It's also important to visually inspect the sharps container for anything protruding. If the waste appears to be overflowing, follow CDC guidelines for removing any overflowing contents. Never put your hand in the sharps container or use your hand to push the waste down.

Step 5 – Securing the Container

All FDA approved sharps containers are manufactured with a locking mechanism. It secures the contents of the container once full and makes it safer and easier to handle full sharps containers. Once locked and secured, it also helps avoid the contents of the container from coming loose. Once the locking mechanism is secure, generally the safety feature can not be reactivated or opened for everyone's safety. Sharps containers should easily lock for final disposal as long as the container is not filled pass the fill line.

Step 6 –Small Volume Container Packaging

Did you know one of the most common needlestick injuries is from improper packaging? How you package your sharps containers for disposal is just as important as prevention measures while the containers are in use. As a reminder, you as a medical waste generator are still responsible for your waste until it’s final disposal so how you package the sharps containers can impact the safety of others. If you are using small volume sharps containers, these should be placed in the RMW (regulated medical waste) box or container that is lined with a red bag, which is DOT approved for transport of disposable sharps containers. Using reusable regulated medical waste containers provides an additional layer of durability and safety for transport should sharps become loose from their designated container.

Step 7 – Large Volume Sharps Containers

If your facility is generating a large volume of sharps waste, using large disposable sharps containers such as 8 gallon or 18 gallon would be a suitable solution. Both sizes are DOT regulated and approved for transport without additional packaging.  Loose sharps can be placed directly into either of these large volume, puncture-proof containers for safe disposal.

Step 8 – Storing Medical Waste for Pick Up

Now that you have taken several steps to handle your sharps containers with care and properly package them, the final step is storing the waste for pick up and disposal. It’s best to store your waste in a designated area within your facility that is not accessible to patients and clearly indicates biohazardous waste is being stored there. It is suggested to promptly dispose of your sharps and biohazard waste. Pick up and disposal service by Bio-MED Medical Waste Transporters, we will pick up and safely transport your medical waste for disposal at our local facility during your next scheduled pick up or when you call in to request a pick up.

Count on Bio-MED Medical Waste Transporters to Help Manage Your Workplace Sharps Safety

At Bio-MED Medical Waste Transporters, we have over 25 years experience managing sharps waste for customers and clients throughout Michigan, Ohio, and northern Kentucky. From doctors and dentists, to veterinaries, mortuaries, and tattoo shops, we have the extensive knowledge it takes to help keep our customers compliant and avoid workplace injuries from accidents involving sharps. We are the experts at managing sharps and other regulated waste for generators of all sizes. We offer an online OSHA compliance safety training program that can help take the guess work out of managing sharps waste safely. Our sharps container products are top-rated and full stocked.  Contact us today for all of your sharps management needs.

NOTE: The steps outlined in this article are suggestions or recommendations and NOT intended to replace local, state, or federal agency guidelines. Always follow standard guidelines set forth by the CDC, OSHA, and other trusted agencies.

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