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Sharps Container Disposal

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Sharps Container Disposal

There are millions of sharps accidents that occur around the world each year causing the potential transmission of deadly diseases from bloodeborne pathogens. Since healthcare workers are with patients and are involved in handling sharps, they are the most at-risk group. Proper disposal of sharps not only reduces the sharps sticks but also assists in guarding against diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C in landfills where both people and the environment may be affected. Due to the priority of sharps safety, state and federal laws have been created with attention given to the containers required for sharps.

Sharps are defined as any item used that could pierce the skin that can potentially transmit bloodborne pathogens such as viruses and bacteria that can cause deadly diseases. Although most think of hypodermic needles when they think of sharps, they can include a variety of things including lancets, knives, scalpels, and broken glass or plastic. Ensuring that these sharps are handled, stored, and disposed of properly is a high priority to keep accidents from happening.

Why Sharps Disposal Containers Are Important

In the 1980’s some East Coast state beaches experienced the horror of having massive amounts of medical waste wash up on their shores. The waste included used hypodermic needles that could potentially still transmit diseases. As a response to this disaster, the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 was established, allowing a waste tracking system, and standards for the separation, packaging, storing, and labeling of medical waste. It also imposed penalties for the lack of maintaining medical waste records. The program was voluntary, with the four states of New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut participating. The initial program was designed as a temporary measure and after monitoring it for two years, the federal program expired requiring each state to establish their own programs.

Since that time states have created guidelines for all medical waste handling, storage, and disposal, including sharps waste, most of which emulate the original federal act. State organizations also work in conjunction with federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the proper transport of medical waste to disposal areas for ultimate destruction, rendering it harmless.  Over the years, the FDA (Federal Drug Administration has coordinated to create specific FDA-cleared container guidelines that can be used in all states.  Each state has an established list of rules and laws for medical waste management, with specific attention the sharps disposal.

In addition to laws and rules, there are requirements for record keeping and proof/certification of medical waste destruction. In case of audits, if an organization cannot produce the appropriate proof of proper destruction, there are varying state and federal fines that can be imposed.

The purpose of all medical waste management, and especially sharps management, is to ensure the reduction of potentially dangerous disease transmissions via needle sticks, accidents in landfills, and environmental pollution. To accomplish all of the endeavors, guidelines were created for proper medical waste containers, rules for handling, storage, transportation and final disposal.

FDA-Cleared Sharps Container Requirements

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has devoted time to the evaluation, safety, and effectiveness of sharps containers. They have cleared or “approved” of only those containers that comply with their guidelines as a way to assist in reducing infections and injuries from sharps:

Next Generation Sharps Containers

To reduce the potential of sharps accidents, newer sharps containers have been produced that have additional benefits. These next generation sharps containers offer ease of use combined with protection aspects such as multiple levels so that the sharp object is placed in the upper level to segregate it from items that are already placed in the container and then a roll lever or lid to drop the sharp into the container. This eliminates the requirement for an individual to place their hands inside the container which could result in an accident. Additional features also include specially designed lids that also prevent the sharps from being removed easily as well as clearly marked areas to comply with the ¾ full rule for disposal.

To reduce the number of plastics in landfills and lower carbon footprints, there are now sharps containers that are designed to be reusable. These types of containers are available from licensed and trained medical waste disposal companies.

Containers are the Frontline, but There’s More

Having the appropriate containers are the first line of defense in maintaining safety and efficacy against transmitting potentially dangerous diseases. Proper containers must be followed with the correct behavior, actions, and education on all aspects of dealing with sharps. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for each state requires training of all staff on the proper handling of hazardous medical materials, including how to dispose of sharps in the appropriate containers.  Additional actions need to be complied with regarding the containers themselves:

The FDA also includes a list of “Don’ts” for Dealing with Sharps and their Containers:

OSHA Training for Medical Waste and Sharps Containers

Every state has an individual OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) department that creates the laws for the safety of medical staff. In the case that a state does not have specific guidelines, the state defaults to the federal OSHA guidelines. A majority of states incorporate the requirement that all employees complete the initial training prior to being hired and some states also require that all employees receive follow up training over a period of specified time.

OSHA training includes a variety of topics to help staff members keep themselves and the patients safe, including details on medical waste containers, how to handle and deal with sharps and sharps containers, and emergency procedures in case of an accident.

The Future of Sharps Containers

The volume of sharps that are being used in the medical industry has been slowly increasing due to both extended longevity as well as pharmaceutical companies transitioning to sharps for medicinal delivery methods. However, all of the ideas of the growth in the sharps market completely changed with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the expansion of the use of sharps for vaccines in the pharmacies we can now see an explosion in the use of sharps for COVID-19 vaccines in both pharmacies and the standard medical and healthcare facilities. With millions of vaccine deliveries, the sheer quantity of sharps has increased the demand for sharps containers of all types, including single use and reusable, as well as small and large volume sizes and portables.

Marketwatch has listed the sharps container market for 2019 as: “Sharps Containers Market size valued at 449.1 Mn USD and will increase to 624.1 Mn USD in 2019, with a CAGR of 4.2%.”

Due to COVID-19 the growth in the market is exponentially larger. Companies are currently involved in the development of new innovations for sharps containers which include safer methods for use, storage, and transport. There will soon be containers made of new and approved polymers including some that are biodegradable for the purpose of a healthier environment. Each change is designed to address an ever-changing landscape of locations where sharps are being used and the need for containers has increased.

Additional studies are being done to analyze which containers have the best effect, involve fewer injuries, and are most useful in a variety of environments. The studies are comparing pre and post COVID-19 conditions as a method to recommend the best sharps containers.  Prior to COVID-19 surgical wards were paying more attention to sharps container safety recommendations for appropriate filling as compared to medical wards. The studies are showing that during the pandemic, medical wards are being better at adherence.

With the increased use of sharps and sharps containers there has also been a drastic increase in sharps disposal. The higher volume has added to medical waste pickup schedules, which in turn has increased the number of audits that are being conducted in a variety of medical environments.

Healthcare Waste Management

The necessity to have a licensed, trained, and professional medical waste disposal company has never been a higher priority. We are knowledgeable in all areas of state and federal law and each of our drivers and staff members are employed by us. HWM owns our own trucks and disposal plants. We are partnered with small and large healthcare organizations of all types working to ensure that we accommodate a pickup schedule for your company that meets your needs.

HWM assists with employee training so that your organization is OSHA compliant and we supply medical waste containers, including sharps containers, that fit a potentially changing volume.

We offer our clients a wide selection of single use and reusable medical waste containers and have specialty sharps containers that include roll top lids that separate the sharp ends and help to keep staff safe. We offer consultations with our customers to evaluate and recommend the best locations for sharps containers in-house and storage locations when the containers are ready for pickup. We have added new lines of rolling and stackable containers as part of our innovation efforts.

One of the ways that we encourage improvement is to always be looking for the safest and most innovative products for our clients.  Our concern for the environment has allowed HWM to be one of the top medical waste disposal companies involved in many ecological endeavors.

HWM takes pride in having clients in ten states. We invest in our company, our staff, our trucks, and our disposal facilities so that our customers know that the services they receive are directly from Health Waste Management. Our policy is to remain flexible as we all get through the pandemic together and to supply the best service and containers that will help to keep everyone safe.

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