Regulated Medical Waste for Dental Offices
Regulated medical waste (RMW) is any item in the waste stream that may cause a significant risk of infection transmission to humans, the community, and/or the environment. It is also known as “infectious waste” or “biohazard waste,” and most regulations and laws for handling, storage, and transport are set by individual states. Each state may have their own guidelines that involve environmental protection agencies, departments of health, and occupational safety agencies. Regulated medical waste is generated from a variety of sources including health organizations as well as laboratories, autopsy locations, tattoo parlors, and pharmacies. Dental practices generate RMW as they deal with patients that have potentially dangerous diseases. A majority of dental offices hire a licensed contract company for the safe removal and disposal of RMW, and there are varying requirements from states for the handling, storage, labeling, weight, recordkeeping, and management of containers for RMW.
Types of Dental Office RMW
Due to the fact that each state has its own definitions and regulation requirements, there may be quite a bit of difference from state to state on guidelines and organizations that need to be involved in RMW handling, storage, and disposal. These are the most commonly recognized RMW that dental offices generate:
- Saturated or blood soaked dressings or swabs are placed in an RMW “red bag” that is stored inside a container that is rigid. Storage and disposal must follow the state regulations. If the items contain only a small amount of fluid that doesn’t drip, they can be disposed of in the regular trash/garbage.
- Liquid blood and body fluids may be disposed of in the sanitary sewer system.
- Teeth that are extracted are defined in some states as “pathological waste” and should be placed in a “red bag” or the “sharps container.” An exception to this is if the teeth contain amalgam. Since most red bag containers are incinerated for destruction, this would release the mercury in the teeth into the atmosphere. Teeth containing amalgam are considered to be “duel waste” in some states and should be disposed of with a duel waste broker. Some mental recycling companies accept teeth that contain amalgam. In lieu of disposal, a majority of states let the dentists give the teeth that have been extracted back to the patient upon request.
- Sharps that have been used can include but are not limited to hypodermic needles, scalpels, blades, broken glass or any object that could puncture the skin. The regulations for sharps include the requirement to be placed in a puncture-resistant, rigid, labeled container that has been created to keep the contents inside without puncturing or leakage. The label is the universal biohazard logo or with the words visible stating “sharps,” “biohazard,” or “infectious waste.” In some states sharps can be mailed to a sharps disposal company as well as through a licensed RMW transporter.
- Other hazardous waste such as chemicals or anything used in x-rays, and lead foils.
Individual states have specific OSHA requirements (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) on the topic of staff training in identifying, handling, storage, and disposal of RMW. Every dental office is required to comply with federal and state laws regarding RMW, or face fines and penalties.
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