Tips on how to safely handle medical waste

Medical syringe
1 minute read  

Whether you run a clinic, vet, lab, dentist or any other health services operation, you’ll most likely have to deal with medical waste from time to time. Doing so in a way that not only complies with hazardous waste and environmental regulations but doesn’t harm anyone either can be difficult, but there are a few ways you can make it easier.

Different types of waste…

Medical waste usually falls into one of three categories:

  • Sharps: Hypodermic needles, scalpels, lancets, broken glass or plastic, lab slides and anything else that can puncture skin
  • Bio-hazardous waste: Blood, tissue, cultures and swabs, bandages, dressings, used gloves, and anything that may be contaminated with bodily fluids and wastes
  • Pharmaceuticals: Left-over, outdated or contaminated

…and what to do with it

The vast majority of practitioners handle medical waste is by hiring companies that specialize in waste management. They use specially designed containers and safe-operating procedures to make sure no one is injured and nothing is contaminated. They typically provide containers that are picked up and replaced with fresh ones on a regular basis.

Container types

Different types of containers hold different types of waste:

  • Sharps containers feature a “one way entry” that lets you put things in but not reach in and dump them out.
  • Bio-hazard pails are made of tough materials and typically have foot-pedal lids and self-closing mechanisms.
  • Medical waste containers are brightly coloured and distinctly labelled with the bio-hazard warning symbol.

Make sure you have a secure area on your property that’s designated for hazardous waste container storage. After a container is picked up, its contents are either treated with high-temperature steam or incinerated.

Medical waste handling techniques

Medical waste should be handled as little as possible and ideally thrown out immediately after it’s used. For example, every treatment area where an injection might be given should have a sharps disposal container. This is much more efficient than re-capping or breaking the needle – neither of which is recommended anymore.

Remember to always dispose of packaging and unused items as medical waste, so that clients, sanitation workers or the general public don’t get upset because they think it’s contaminated. You may also need special collection boxes for waste that contains certain substances like mercury (dental amalgams) or lead (X-rays).