What Does OSHA Have to Say About Sharps Disposal?
Medical waste disposal for laboratories revolves primarily around removing contaminated sharps from the facility. Sharps pose a different type of biohazard then other types of medical waste, and have drawn specific attention from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA. If your laboratory is not taking measures to dispose of sharps in accordance with OSHA regulations, you could face fines from the federal government.
What is a Contaminated Sharp?
OSHA classifies a sharp as being any object which is capable of penetrating a person’s skin. This includes needles used by lab workers to draw blood from patients. Scalpels, capillary tubes, broken glass and dental wires are also classified as a contaminated sharp if they have been exposed to blood or other potentially infectious human tissue or fluid.
OSHA’s concern is that a cut or needlestick from a sharp that has been contaminated could result in an employee becoming infected with a communicable infection or disease. Specifically mentioned in their recommendations for sharps disposal is the possibility of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV) or the hepatitis C virus (HCV). These blood borne pathogens pose a serious risk of infection to health care workers who do not take care when handling contaminated sharps.
Prompt Disposal of Sharps in Laboratories
OSHA mandates that employers of laboratories ensure that contaminated sharps can be disposed of in a safe container immediately after use. This calls for sharps containers to be within easy reach of laboratory workers in areas where they draw blood or other biological samples from patients. Keeping these containers on a transportable cart is also allowed if that measure will help prevent patient’s access to the sharps while making it more feasible for a worker to quickly discard of them.
There are some instances where a laboratory worker may have to recap a contaminated sharp in the course of patient care. OSHA has firmly stated that when this is required, employers are not permitted to allow workers to recap a sharp using a two-handed approach. The only safe methods either involve a mechanical device or the one-handed technique. The one-handed method requires the worker to use the needle to scoop up the cover for the sharp and then press it against a hard surface until firmly in place. Alternatively, the worker may use tongs to hold the cover while placing it back over the tip of a contaminated needle.
Sharps Containers in Laboratories
Following proper procedures for medical waste disposal in laboratories necessitates having sharps containers easily accessible. These containers are built from puncture resistant materials, and should be constructed to prevent leaks from the bottom or sides. Employees need to be trained on the proper use of sharps containers, identifying when they have reached capacity, and the procedures for emptying them.
OSHA’s primary role is in protecting the individuals from any type of work related injury or illness. For a medical laboratory, the biggest risk comes from the spread of infectious disease from needlesticks and cuts. Do your part to protect your employees by following all the recommendations that OSHA proposes to maintain a safe working environment.