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Handling Contaminated Sharps

May 5, 2021

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Handling Contaminated Sharps

Handling Contaminated Sharps. Sharps are defined as any item that can pierce the skin that could transmit potentially infectious materials. Sharps can encompass a lot of different objects including but not limited to needles, knives, scalpels, broken plastic and glass, ends of dental wires, and capillary tubes. These items can contain blood or OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) as defined in the 29CFRR 1910.1030 OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard.  They are considered to be contaminated or potentially contaminated sharps requiring special handling, storage, transport and disposal.

Injuries from sharps can be both dangerous and deadly. A cut or needlestick from a sharps that is contaminated could transmit such diseases as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HBV (hepatitis B virus), HCV (hepatitis C virus), and a series of additional bloodborne pathogens. The OSHA standard creates guidelines designed for the reduction of sharps injuries. Employers are required to supply staff with training and the equipment to decrease the potential of sharps injuries, including PPE (personal protection equipment).

Progress with Medical Devices that are Safer

Part of the standards include the requirement for employers to use safer medical devices. As technology has moved forward there are a variety of newer sharps devices that offer improved levels of safety including but not limited to those that are needleless and those that have built-in guards to protect workers against contamination. The safer medical devices are to be used where possible. The standards require that staff that are non-managerial must be involved in the evaluation and selection of the devices and work practice and engineering controls that are effective. Part of the employer responsibility under the standard is to document all device considerations and implementation as well as seek worker input and an Exposure Control Plan.

Fast Sharps Disposal

The responsibility of employers encompasses creating an environment where sharps can be disposed of in a prompt manner close to their origin of use in containers that are easily and readily accessible. Some healthcare providers have rolling carts that contain the sharps containers so that they can move from room to room and avoid accidental patient access. FDA-cleared containers must be available in any location where sharps may be found including such areas as laundries.

The rules for sharps that are contaminated include that they should never be broken or sheared. There are some cases in which recapping, removing needles, or bending is used but only when there is no other alternative or in the situation that involves a specific dental or medical procedure. Otherwise, these practices are not to be done. Employers must supply training to staff to demonstrate the methods needed for safe bending or recapping. The “one-handed scoop” technique makes use of the needle for cap pickup and then using a hard surface, the cap is pushed into place. Contaminated broken glass or plastic should always be picked up with forceps or tongs and never using bare or even gloved hands. Residual remnants should be picked up using dust pans or brushes.

FDA-Cleared Sharps Containers and Requirements

The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) does not recommend any particular sharps container brands or types but instead has a list of requirements that sharps containers must comply with to be considered as FDA-cleared. These sharps containers must be sturdy, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, and sealable. They must have the appropriate color-coded red and labels as a method to alert all that the contents are hazardous. Sharps containers have to have a flap, door, lid or container closure top that will keep the sharps in the container and not spill out. All sharps containers must be maintained in an upright condition to prevent any spillage or leakage.

Sharps containers should never be filled past the 2/3 mark and never overfilled. In the case of reusable sharps containers, they should never be opened, manually cleaned, or emptied in a way that could cause worker exposure and sharps injury. Employers are required to make sure that contaminated reusable sharps are never processed or stored in any way that requires a staff member to place their hands into the sharps disposal containers.

Handling, Storage, and Transport of Sharps Containers

Sharps containers must be closed and sealed prior to removal or replacement. In any case where there is a potential of leakage, the employer is required to place a secondary container that can be closed/sealed, as well as the container being appropriately color-coded and labeled so that the contents will not leak during handling, storage, and transportation.

A professional medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management helps in supplying appropriate containers, OSHA-approved training, guidance and advice and medical waste pickup.

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