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Some tips for properly storing medical waste

by John Saunders
7th Aug 20 12:41 pm

Properly storing and disposing of medical waste are absolute musts. So many industries today generate clinical or biomedical waste, yet many organisations still manage to be incompliant. Since 5.9 million tons of medical waste is produced annually in the US, it’s imperative that medical professionals and businesses that generate healthcare waste learn how to handle, store, and discard it. Thus, to better assist you in storing medical waste, here are several tips to ensure you do it right and avoid improper disposal.

Separate medical waste

The very first thing you need to do when dealing with or storing medical waste is separate said waste from other trash. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re collecting biohazardous waste correctly. Generally, proper collection means discarding medical garbage according to category and in the correct container or bag. If you need medical waste disposal equipment/supplies or general assistance with your biomedical waste, don’t hesitate to contact a Med Pro Disposal management team member in your area for further assistance.

Use the correct containers

In addition to separating your medical waste from other waste, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by ensuring you’re utilising the correct containers or bags. Red biohazard bags should be available for your staff/personnel for quick and easy collection. If you dispose of sharp waste, always use a sharp bin/container to ensure everyone’s safety. Once the correct items or waste are placed in their designated bins and bags, make sure biomedical waste containers/bags are properly secured.

Properly secure full bags and containers

That said, it’s highly recommended that you securely fasten biohazard bags when full. Likewise, medical waste containers with lids should be tight-fitting. Regardless of the collection receptacle, it should be clearly labeled with the words “Biohazard” and include the biohazard symbol. Note that many states require that you place this international symbol in such a way that it’s visible from all sides or any direction—this typically only applies to containers with lids. If you’re using the correct bags, they should have the correct signage already printed on them.

Avoid overfilling

To properly secure all receptacles, you should avoid overfilling. For instance, sharp containers should only be 2/3 full when you close them and prep for disposal. Biohazardous red bags should also be partially full. In this instance, if you overfill these bags, you could potentially rupture the bag. Additional tip: By having a designated storage and disposal area in your business or organisation, you can have extra supplies readily available. This will reduce the likelihood of people overfilling containers and bags.

Implement best practices

Another great way to ensure that your biomedical waste is being stored correctly is to implement best practices. The easiest way to do this is to go over your federal and state storing/discarding guidelines. Once you have a thorough understanding of what should be done, you can create a list of best practices for your business or organisation. You should post these methods near the designated storage area, so they are visible at all times.

A universal best practice for storing medical waste is to create a straightforward color-coding system. Typically, hospitals and healthcare providers will have red bags for infectious waste and yellow containers for trace waste (ampules, vials, IV bags, needles, etc.). On the other hand, black receptacles are generally for bulk waste (PPEs, cleaning materials, and so on), and blue contains pharmaceutical waste. Ultimately, this type of color-coded container/bag system helps to reduce sorting errors.

Cleaning containers and decontamination

Besides following the correct guidelines, it’s also beneficial to establish a regular cleaning and decontamination schedule. This will reduce the chances that chemicals or previously-stored waste doesn’t mix with other dangerous materials. Note that if a spill or some kind of contamination has occurred, your staff should be able to access information and the necessary equipment to clean up the spill/disinfect the contaminated area quickly.

Same-day disposal

When dealing with sharps, it’s always best to dispose of the sharps container on the same day it’s full or closed. There’s really no reason a full sharps container should be left lying around or stored for multiple days on end. This is another opportunity where you can create a best practice regarding sharps and their proper disposal.

Create a schedule

A clearly listed collection and disposal schedule will ensure that everyone is on the same page. A prime example where this comes in handy is with the same-day disposal of sharps. Ultimately, this is just another way to stay organised. This may seem like overkill, but you want to make sure that you’re properly handling your medical waste as you’re responsible as an organisation if an accident, spill, or avoidable contamination occurs.

Assign a designated area

As briefly mentioned, assigning a designated area for storing your biomedical waste is also recommended. The reality is that most healthcare sector day-to-day operations create a substantial amount of regulated medical waste. Having it stored in one clear area will prevent a whole host of issues like an improper collection. Moreover, having your trash in one space makes it easier for your biomedical waste disposal management team to gather and transport said waste. Note that this area should also be properly labeled with the biohazard symbol.

Maintain the storage area

Hopefully, once you have all your regulated medical garbage in one spot, you can properly maintain the storage area. Obviously, this involves cleaning, decontamination, having extra supplies on hand, and more. For larger organisations like hospitals, it’s often beneficial to have a specific staff member be trained and required to maintain the medical waste storage facilities. Of course, if you’re a small business or not as well-funded, this may be more of a group effort.

Minimise exposure

Along those same lines, it’s actually safer to have only a few employees handling the medical waste. Furthermore, the regulated medical garbage storage space shouldn’t be easily accessible to non-personnel or the general public. By minimising exposure in this way, associated risks are greatly reduced. Note that OSHA does require that a written Exposure Control Plan (ECP) be provided to these select staff members. In addition to ECP, specific training is also required for handling bloodborne pathogens.

Limit storage time

Medical waste should only be stored for a few days. That said, most states have put limits on how long biomedical waste can be stored. Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, you should strive to dispose of medical or healthcare waste somewhere between 7 to 20 days. Clearly, if your particular state has different requirements, then you should adhere to those guidelines. Overall, biomedical waste should be kept in a cool and dry place, i.e., you should limit the amount of time that any regulated medical garbage is stored above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maintain a spill plan.

Ideally, if your medical waste is being stored properly and guidelines/procedures are being followed, you shouldn’t need a spill or in case of an emergency plan. However, it’s strongly recommended that you have one in place, as accidents do happen and it’s better to be prepared. Typically, spill cleanup procedures include notifying other staff members, removing any spillage from the container or bag, putting at least two pairs of gloves, and splash goggles, followed by disinfectant prep. Depending on what was spilled, you may or may not need forceps to handle any broken glassware or sharps. There are several more steps to a comprehensive spill plan; these are just a few crucial ones. Additional tip: have a spill kit handy with a roll of paper towel, EPA-approved disinfectant, biohazard bags, absorbent powder, glovers, tong/forceps, and splash goggles.

Continuing education and training

Your organisation and personnel will also benefit from continuing education/training. Once again, this is usually required by EPA, OSHA, etc. Regardless, having everyone up-to-speed on what to do in the event of a spill/contamination or being apprised of all the current rules and regulations means that everyone is prepared. Thus, the likelihood of harm or injury is significantly reduced. If you need assistance signing up for medical waste disposal training, the professionals at MedPro Disposal can help. There’s also ample material online for continuing education.

Stay current

Lastly, even outside of training, it helps to stay apprised of federal and state guidelines. Doing so not only prepares you for unexpected and foreseeable issues down the road, but it can also help keep medical waste costs down, which is always a good thing.

Final note

Ultimately, these suggestions and tips will ensure that you’re handling, storing, and disposing of your medical waste in the safest manner possible. Moreover, when these procedures are coupled with the assistance of a reputable and experienced biomedical waste disposal company, storing and discarding regulated medical garbage should be uneventful for your organisation or business, which is exactly what you should want.

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