Sharps are any item in the medical industry that can pierce the skin that has the ability to potentially transmit bloodborne pathogens. This places sharps as some of the most dangerous tools used in medicine and they can include everything from hypodermic needles to scalpels, lancets, knives, and even broken glass and plastic. There is a priority to not only focus on handling sharps correctly, but to also maintain strict guidelines for the disposal and ultimate destruction.
The reduction of sharps injuries by medical workers has been a major focus. According to the World Health Organization over 2 million sharps injuries happen every year, leaving healthcare workers exposed to potential infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B. Bloodborne pathogens that enter the body through a cut or piercing from a sharp can cause horrible and deadly diseases. The pathogens are microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi that can make the injured party very ill and possibly lead to death.
Due to the severity of potential injury from sharps, each state has established strict guidelines for sharps storage and disposal. These laws are in conjunction with other federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) that have created compliance rules from the moment of generation to the ultimate destruction that renders the sharps harmless. Whenever a state does not have specific details and rules, sharps disposal laws default to federal guidelines. Beyond the potential transmission of bloodborne pathogens in the medical rooms, the laws are also designed to protect the environment from leakage and contamination due to illegal dumping in landfills.
There are many steps involved in the disposal of sharps and they begin with appropriate staff training. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires training in each state for all new employees and some states require additional training for existing employees. Other high priority topics include proper storage in containers that are designed for sharps and containers placed in safe locations. Laws for proper destruction are state-dependent, but it must ultimately end with a harmless product. Due to the high-level requirements in dealing with sharps, some states now allow reusable containers to reduce plastics in landfills as well as sharps mail-in programs. To avoid confusion or error, most medical facilities make use of licensed medical waste disposal companies for scheduled pickups and destruction of sharps.
Practicing safety in sharps disposal is the responsible thing to do for staff, patients, and the environment. Medical institutions are required to show proof that they have complied with all state and federal laws for sharps containment, storage, and disposal from the moment it is generated to finality. If a facility doesn’t comply with the guidelines, they can receive extensive monetary fines that can be compounded. The financial weight can be so large that it has the potential to put an organization out of business. Even if they manage to maintain viability, damage to their reputation can be irreversible.
Licensed, professional medical waste disposal companies are not only trained on the appropriate handling and disposal of sharps but are up-to-date on all of the state and federal laws required for compliance.
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