If you manage a veterinary hospital or practice, you probably already know that your workplace is considered a medical/hazardous waste generator. As such, it is subject to many of the same federal and state waste disposal regulations that human healthcare facilities must follow to protect their workers, their patients, the public and the environment from harm. That means that knowing how to properly classify, handle and dispose of the regulated medical/hazardous waste your facility generates is essential to avoiding legal issues. To help you get a handle on proper veterinary waste disposal, we’ve put together some basics on medical/hazardous waste management in the veterinary care setting.
Basics: Waste Classification and Segregation
Veterinary care providers must, like healthcare facilities that serve human patients, separate certain types of waste out for special handling. These waste streams fall under two basic categories; medical waste and hazardous waste.
Medical Waste Generated by Veterinary Care
Sharps waste – Federal and state regulations require waste products that fall under this category to be segregated into approved sharps containers. Items that belong in sharps containers include any device that can pierce or cut the skin, such as hypodermic needles, IV ports, razors, disposable scalpels or blades, and some glass items, like vials, pipettes or broken glass that may be contaminated with biohazardous agents.
Biohazardous waste – Waste products that are categorized as biohazardous medical waste under federal and state regulations, and are not sharps, must be segregated into red biohazard bags or containers. Pathology waste, such as animal parts, tissues, fluids or carcasses, that may be contaminated with infectious agents falls under this category, as does laboratory waste, such as specimens or cultures that may contain infectious pathogens. Items such as animal parts will need to be separately contained and labeled for incineration only. Other items that belong in biohazard containers include bedding, bandages or other materials soiled with urine, feces or other fluids that may contain infectious agents.
Hazardous Waste Generated by Veterinary Care
- Certain cleaning fluids and disinfectants
- Some laboratory chemicals, such as formaldehyde, acetone, toluene, fixatives, and alcohol
- Listed pharmaceuticals
These waste products must be segregated into approved, clearly marked, RCRA hazardous containers.
Key things to know about veterinary waste handling, storage and disposal
Medical and hazardous waste generated during veterinary practice is regulated waste due to its potential to cause harm to anyone who comes into contact with it. For this reason, it is important – and required by OSHA regulations – that anyone handling untreated medical/hazardous waste is provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including impermeable gloves and protective clothing, to minimize risk. Employees are also required to have training in the proper use and disposal of PPE. Other types of training are also mandated for all employees who handle or are exposed to medical/hazardous waste. These include Bloodborne Pathogens training, Waste Handling and Classification Regulations training, Hazardous Communications and Chemical Safety (HAZCOM) training, and D.O.T Hazardous Materials Transportation Regulations training, among other compliance training courses.
Since these waste products also pose risks to the public and the environment, how they are stored before pick up by a waste management service provider for treatment or disposal is also important – and is addressed by state and federal regulations. Storage areas must be secure and inaccessible to the public. Depending upon the amount and types of medical/hazardous waste your workplace generates and the length of time it will be stored, the availability of a refrigerator or freezer in the storage area may also be required.
Last, but certainly not least, one of the most important things to know about veterinary waste disposal is that your responsibility for it does not end when it leaves your facility. In fact, you are liable for any harm it causes from the moment it is generated all the way through until it is rendered harmless by treatment, destroyed or delivered to an approved disposal site. What that means for you is that it is crucial that you choose your waste services provider carefully. Make sure that the company you choose to manage your veterinary waste disposal is licensed to handle the types of waste you produce, has all necessary permits for transporting your waste, is complaint with all state and federal requirements, and provides you with a manifest at pick-up and a certificate of destruction once it has reached its final destination.