Dental offices have several treatments that involve the use of “sharps.” These items can include hypodermic needles, knives, scalpels, broken glass or plastic, or anything that can cut the skin and may have been exposed to transmittable diseases. While sharps are generated in a variety of medical environments, the AEGIS Dental Network reports that sharps are the most common dental office medical waste. Maintaining safety for patients and staff for proper disposal is critical. In addition to safety requirements, there are state and federal guidelines that dental offices must comply with for proper sharps disposal.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that injuries from sharps occur at a rate of around 850,000 per year due to incorrectly throwing them away. Dental offices need to comply with the same methods and routines as all other medical environments for the safe handling and disposal of sharps.
Sharps must be placed in containers that are designed specifically for sharps and never placed in general waste. These containers have slots that have slots that are either vertical or horizontal to drop in. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has established requirements for sharps containers that include being puncture-resistant, leak-proof, completely sealable, labeled, and are to be either in a red color or have the universal biohazard logo on the container for all to view.
The proper sharps container will have a mark that indicates the “fill-to” point so that staff can see the contents prior to adding any additional sharps. Recommended guidelines indicate that sharps containers should be filled to the 2/3 point and have openings that are sized for the entire blade or needle to be easily dropped in. The container should never leak or spill, even if toppled over.
Some sharps containers are available on carts that can be rolled from one office to the next. However, if the sharps container is to remain in an office it needs to be in a specifically designated area that is easy to access. OSHA regulations require that a sharps container be in a room where sharps are used for procedures. The staff member or doctor should be able to easily reach the container for sharps disposal after use. The containers should never be inside cabinets, on the backs of doors, under sinks, or in a place that has foot traffic or that could spill or fall over.
Once a sharps container reaches the 2/3 full point it should be closed and sealed and include the required exterior label. All containers should then be coordinated with a sharp’s disposal program either through a professional medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management or via a mail-back or supervised collection site.
For their own safety and that of patients and everyone in the office, all employees and volunteers in a dental office need to have training on the proper method of handling and storing sharps. They should be aware of the dangers of mishandling and the potential of transmittable diseases that could be the result of a sharps accident. Employers should offer an OSHA-approved training course such as the one offered by Healthcare Waste Management for the staff that will cover all required topics for safety for their individual state.
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