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A Primer on OSHA Compliance and Medical Waste

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

As medical services become increasingly important and ubiquitous, there is also a rise in medical waste. To combat this, the government has created a number of regulations and recommendations for handling these often dangerous substances.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the basics of medical waste handling and removal for physicians, as well as tips for how to keep your facility safe and within regulations.

A Quick Background on OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), created in 1970, is a government body within the United States Department of Labor. The main function of OSHA is to simply ensure healthful and safe working conditions for workers by introducing and enforcing standards across workplaces and industries. Prior to the advent of OSHA, businesses often allowed dangerous working conditions that could harm both workers and customers or civilians.

OSHA is divided into many smaller parts to cover the plethora of industries that keep our economy moving. OSHA covers most private sector employers and workers, as well as some public sector employees across the 50 states and some territories.

While unsafe business practices are still a major issue in America, OSHA works diligently to create and uphold regulations that address these unsafe conditions and practices across the U.S.A.

The Importance of Proper Medical Waste Disposal

Medical waste, as the name suggests, is waste that is produced from hospitals, clinics, and other medical establishments. Although many don’t consider medical waste disposal, it’s one of the most crucial aspects of properly running a medical facility. As such, OSHA devotes much of its time and resources to medical waste disposal.

According to the United States Code, medical waste includes "isolation wastes; infectious agents; human blood and blood products; pathological wastes; sharps; body parts; contaminated bedding; surgical wastes and potentially contaminated laboratory wastes; dialysis wastes; and such additional medical items as the Administrator shall prescribe by regulation." This definition is shared by OSHA, the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other federal, state, and local agencies.

Since these waste items can have adverse effects on people or the environment, it is incredibly important that they be handled in a systematic, regulated manner.

How OSHA Regulates Medical Waste Disposal

Given the specific nature of medical waste, OSHA has developed specific requirements to ensure that the waste is handled in a systematic manner. These requirements can be broadly stated in six steps described below:

1) Have a Clear Plan

One of the most important aspects of handling medical waste is the creation of a clear waste management plan for your workplace. This plan needs to include the protocols and technology that are being used for each type of medical waste being handled by the clinic.

2) Universal Precautions

Universal precautions are another key facet of medical waste handling that medical practitioners are required to abide by. Universal precautions are a set of infection control strategies that act as if human blood and other bodily fluids may be highly infectious. Much like a gun is treated as loaded even if it isn’t, these precautions dictate a cautious, responsible response to bodily fluids regardless of actual risk.

3) Handling Sharps

Sharps are among one of the biggest issues in medical waste since they can be the source of unintended accidents that may cause serious injury or even death. Even if mishandling results in nothing more than a minor cut, it could cause a person who would have otherwise been protected to become infected.

As a result, sharps need to have a specific protocol for storage and handling which is also outlined by OSHA. Over the years, OSHA has conducted studies to determine the best practices, including how the sharps containers are designed and used. Without these protocols, it can be easy to make a mistake and risk an injury to a staff member.

4) Proper Labeling

Since there are many different types of medical waste, labeling is also incredibly important. Proper labeling allows the different types of waste to be kept separate, which reduces contamination risk.

The labels used for medical waste must typically meet certain size, color, and placement requirements to be maximally communicative to staff handling and disposing of waste products.

5) Employee Training

Given the systematic nature of OSHA and medical waste disposal, employees are required to be trained on the various protocols and equipment used in medical waste disposal.

6) Records

Record keeping for employee training and for the handling of medical waste is also required by OSHA standards. This is important for oversight purposes, as well as staying organized within your clinic or place of business.

Choose Mediwaste Disposal For Your Waste Disposal Needs!

Dealing with OSHA regulations can seem like a hassle, but Mediwaste Disposal can help make the process easy. With OSHA training and a Mail-Back Sharps Program, we make it our mission to help our clients dispose of waste safely and efficiently.

To learn more about how we can help your team, contact us today to receive more information or a same-day quote!

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