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Medical Waste & OSHA – What you need to know

October 5, 2021

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Medical Waste & OSHA – What you need to know

Medical Waste & OSHA – What you need to know. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is one of the many organizations that work in conjunction with local, state and other federal groups for the proper handling, treatment, and disposal of medical waste. OSHA was established for the purpose of worker safety in ensuring that staff are trained in all aspects of medical waste. The local and state laws and the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines govern the disposal of medical waste so that it is rendered harmless. There are local and state laws that must be complied with in addition to these indicated.

OSHA has established seven areas of medical waste regulation that is included in the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030).

The Requirement of a Plan

To protect employees and patients, every location that is involved with infectious medical waste must have a written exposure control plan and is easily available to all workers. The plan must be annually reviewed and updated and should include all aspects of the technology and positions that are used in the location to reduce exposure to blood or body fluids.

Universal Precautions

This is an infection control strategy where medical practitioners treat human blood and some body fluids as if all had the potential to be highly infectious. Precautions and actions that are used assist in keeping all staff members protected when coming into contact with these types of fluids, even without any proof that they are infectious.

Special Attention to Sharps

Sharps are defined as any item that has been used in a medical environment that can puncture the skin or a biohazard liner in the container. Sharps can include but are not limited to: hypodermic needles, blades, scalpels, and broken glass. Sharps must be kept in puncture-resistant boxes designated for sharps and the containers must be sturdy, leak-proof, puncture-proof and have a lid that closes and seals. The containers/boxes should never be filled to over ¾ of the box size. The containers are required to be “easily accessible to personnel,” and should comply with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) practices for the safest locations for sharps containers and includes locations that are unsafe. The NIOSH guidelines also indicate that the locations for the sharps containers should not require staff to make any unnecessary movements for disposal so that it increases risks of exposure.

Unsafe locations for sharps containers:

Labeling Medical Waste

There is specific requirements for the labeling of medical waste so that type of hazardous waste in the containers are easily identifiable. Warning labels are to be “affixed to containers of regulated waste, refrigerators, and freezers containing blood or other potentially infectious material; and other containers used to store, transport or ship blood or other potentially infectious materials”.

The labels used are to be fluorescent orange-red or orange with contrasting color lettering. The universal biohazard symbol should be easily identified and prominent. The labels are affixed as closed to permanent as possible so that the label isn’t accidently removed or lost.

Training Employees

It is a mandate of OSHA that all medical staff receive training on the facility’s exposure control plan when they are hired as well as an annual training. The training should be a requirement for employment acceptance. There should be no cost to the employee and the training must take place during working hours.

Storage On-Site

Container construction within the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard is very specific. Containers should be: “constructed to contain all contents and prevent leakage of fluids”. Additionally, containers are required to have lids that are closeable and remain closed during removal and transport, along with the required universal biohazard labeling.

Record Keeping

OSHA requirements for medical waste record keeping involves the two categories of training and incidents. All training records are required to be kept for three years from the date of training.

Records for training of employees should include:

Records for incidents:

All records for any incident that has occurred in the event that an employee is exposed to medical waste must comply with the record-keeping guidelines set by OSHA to

 “preserve and maintain medical and exposure records for each employee for the duration of employment plus 30 years.”

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