Sharps Waste. “Sharps” is a term used to describe any item that can pierce the skin that may contain a transmittable infectious agent. It is most common in the medical field, however, there are many professionals that use a variety of objects that are identified as sharps. Classified as a type of biomedical waste, there are strict laws and guidelines for the handling, storage, and proper disposal of sharps. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has established training requirements for all staff that deal with and/or handle sharps for their protection and the safety of patients and the environment.
Complying with state and federal laws regarding sharps is required in all settings where sharps are present and there is potential for transmission of disease states. These can include but are not limited to: funeral homes, coroners, dental offices, nursing homes/long term care, tattoo parlors, body piercing companies, and research laboratories.
Sharps can include but are not limited to: hypodermic needles, injection devices, scalpels, knives, blades, scissors, X-acto knives, and broken plastic or glass. If not handled properly, these items have the potential of transmitting deadly bloodborne pathogens such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HBV (hepatitis B), HCV (hepatitis C), and others.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has estimated that around 385,000 injuries occur each year with sharps in personnel working in hospitals. There are many more that happen in other healthcare and non-healthcare settings.
To address the severity of sharps injuries, there are FDA-cleared containers specifically designed for sharps waste. These containers are sturdy, leak-proof, puncture-proof, completely sealable, and typically red in color with the universal biohazard symbol on the outside. In some cases, they are yellow in color. The containers are designed so that the sharps items can be easily dropped into the containers with openings that do not allow people to place their hands inside the opening. Sharps containers should only be filled 2/3 full and then moved to a storage area and immediately replaced with a fresh container. Sharps containers are required to be close to the point of use so that staff members can have easy access. In some cases, locations will have sharps containers on moveable carts that can be transported from room to room.
Once 2/3 filled, sharps containers are relocated to a secure storage area so that they can be picked up by a professional and licensed medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management. The location of storage needs to allow only authorized personnel, be temperature controlled, away from human traffic, free of pests and animals, and not located in any area where the containers will tumble or fall.
The strict compliance guidelines for sharps means that any organization that has sharps should arrange pickup and proper disposal with a licensed and certified medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management. Pickups are coordinated by certified and trained drivers and staff and taken to facilities where the sharps are autoclaved. Autoclaving is a process that uses high temperature steam and heat to destroy all sharps and render them harmless. A certificate of destruction is supplied to the generator to prove that the sharps were destroyed in compliance with all state and federal laws.
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