Sharps Medical Waste Best Practices
Sharps are a special category within medical waste classification and are especially hazardous due to the potential risks for injury which can spread infectious diseases. Sharps are any item used in a facility that can penetrate the skin including, but not limited to hypodermic needles, syringes, blades, lancets, auto-injectors, knives, scalpels, and infusion sets. Proper management and care of sharps is required at every stage of use, storage, and disposal. The dangers involved in sharps cannot be overemphasized, as they can transmit infections and diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, Staphylococcus aureus, and COVID-19.
Any individual that may come into contact with or be exposed to sharps should be trained on the methods of packaging, segregation, and disposal using the professional OSHA guidelines. Education on sharps is a critical part of any facility that has sharps as part of their daily routine. Staff should handle sharps as little as possible, avoiding contact in all but essential sharps purposes. Government guidelines for working with sharps include:
- DO NOT uncover or unwrap the sharp object until it is time to use it.
- Keep the object pointed away from yourself and other people at all times.
- Never recap or bend a sharp object.
- Keep your fingers away from the tip of the object.
- If the object is reusable, put it in a secure, closed container after you use it.
- Never hand a sharp object to someone else or put it on a tray for another person to pick up.
- Tell the people you are working with when you plan to set the object down or pick it up.
Sharps containers and segregation
All sharps should be placed is sharps-specific containers. These containers are red in color and are designed to be puncture-proof, leak proof and have lids that seal securely. Since sharps come into contact with many transferrable and often deadly diseases, the containers should be segregated from other medical waste and so that they are ready for waste management pickup without any additional facility human interaction.
Tips for Dealing with Sharps
- Only use containers designated for sharps.
- Fill a sharps container no more than 2/3 full.
- Never put fingers inside the container holding sharps.
- If there is tubing attached to a needle, hold both needle and tubing when inserting into a sharps container.
- The container for sharps should be within reach at eye level.
- If a needle is protruding out of the sharps container don’t push it in with your hands. A trained individual can use tongs to push a needle back into the sharps container or call the medical waste disposal company to have the container removed.
- If someone discovers a sharp object outside of the sharps container it is safe only if the sharp can be grasped on the end that is non-sharp. If this is not possible, the use of tongs is the only acceptable method for pickup and disposal.
Sharps Medical Waste Disposal
Due to the nature and danger of sharps, it is important to have a professional medical waste disposal company that complies with all local, state, and federal guidelines in the disposal of sharps. The company will have experience in the methods used to render sharps harmless. Skilled and trained professionals will arrive for a scheduled pick up and take the sharps container(s) for treatment using either the autoclave process of high temperatures and pressure or encapsulation method involving adding sharps into a mold that is charged with reactants and heated to create a material that can safely be deposited in landfills. Other methods that a professional medical waste management company may use involves sharps shredding or chemical treatments.