The handling of medical waste is an important process, helping to minimize risks to your staff, your patients, the public and the environment from hazards presented by these waste products. If you are a practice manager or healthcare administrator, you know that a safe and efficient medical waste disposal process is also essential to keeping your workplace in compliance with federal and state waste management regulations.
Medical waste storage is area where those rules certainly come into play, and poor storage practices have been the basis for many violations and fines. Often, these violations occur in facilities that work hard to follow the rules, but fall short due to misunderstandings about just what those rules require of them. To help you prevent such problems in your workplace, here, we’ll go over the ins and outs of safe, compliant medical waste storage.
Use the right containers
Safe and compliant storage means segregating your facility’s waste streams into approved containers. For sharps, this means rigid, leak resistant, and puncture resistant containers that can be closed tightly to ensure safe containment. All other types of regulated waste must of placed in containers for storage and/or transportation that are rigid or semi rigid, leak proof and impervious to moisture. In general, waste streams should be segregated into approved containers as follows:
- Sharps – Red sharps containers
- Other biohazardous waste – Red containers with red liners
- Trace chemotherapy waste – Yellow containers
- RCRA hazardous waste – Black containers
- Pharmaceutical waste – Blue or green containers
Containers should never be overfilled. About two-thirds full is considered best practice for safe medical waste storage. Sharps containers that are at risk for leakage can be placed inside red biohazardous waste containers, so long as those containers can be closed securely.
Label your waste properly for storage
Medical waste containers that will be stored on-site and/or transported off-site must be labeled according to state and federal guidelines. To be compliant with those guidelines, they must have the International Biological Hazard Symbol clearly displayed on the outside of the container, along with a label displaying one of the following words:
- Medical waste
If the container itself is not red, the lettering should done in red against a sharply contrasting background, ensuring that these warning labels are very easy to recognize. Ink used to label medical waste containers must be able to withstand the elements without fading away, and labels must be securely attached on two or more sides of the container. Finally, if smaller waste containers will be combined into larger ones, the larger containers must be labeled with the date that the smaller containers were placed inside, and all stored or transported waste containers must be labeled with the name and address of your facility.
Have a compliant storage area
Once your waste is packaged and labeled according to state and federal regulations, it must be contained in a storage area that is compliant with those regulations until it is picked up by your medical waste services provider. A compliant storage area for medical waste must be secure, preventing access by the general public, and it must have conspicuous signs identifying it with one of the following terms; medical waste, infectious waste or biohazardous waste, and/or display the International Biological Hazard Symbol. It must be used for no other purpose than medical waste storage, and surfaces must be smooth and waterproof. It must also contain a refrigerator, freezer or cold room that can be used as necessary for waste storage.
Know how long you can store waste
There are limits as to how long your medical waste can remain in storage before being transported for treatment. If your workplace generates 220 pounds or more of medical waste per month, storage time should be no more than 7 days, unless your waste is refrigerated at a temperature of less than 45 degrees. If your medical waste production is less than 220 pounds, this rule does not apply, but best practice is to have it hauled off at least every 30 days.
Last, but certainly not least, employee training is essential. Make sure all mandated compliance training is up-to-date for all who are exposed to medical waste, and review key points from that training regularly with your staff to ensure that your workers are well prepared to follow best practices for safe and compliant waste management.