Top Five Medical Waste Disposal Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


Your medical practice is busy and when people are busy, mistakes can happen. However, even a single medical waste disposal accident could have serious consequences for your patients, your staff, and even the environment. We’ve put together a list of five common medical waste disposal mistakes, with tips for how to ensure your facility avoids them.

1. Your Staff Isn’t Properly Trained

It all starts here. Your medical practice staff must be trained on a regular basis to stay up-to-date with all of the state and federal guidelines and regulations that govern medical waste. For instance, did you know that new employees must complete OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen training within ten days after being hired?

How to avoid this Medical Waste Disposal Mistake→Most medical waste providers provide compliance training and some include it with their waste services agreement.

TIP: Look for convenient online compliance training to streamline the process.

2. Your Medical Waste Isn’t Packaged, Labeled or Stored Correctly

Generally, the appropriate medical waste containers are provided by your medical waste services company. However, packaging and labeling is your facility’s responsibility. It’s crucial to use the appropriate containers both during on-site handling and storage at your medical practice and during transportation. Safe containment and proper labeling is a key part of medical waste compliance.

How to avoid this Medical Waste Disposal Mistake→Make sure all containers are leak-proof, rigid, and properly sealed. Use proper packaging, such as placing solid biohazardous waste in a container lined with two red biohazard bags. Use proper labeling, such as marking biohazard waste containers with the biohazard symbol. Follow proper storage procedures, such as storing pathological waste (in the appropriate container) in a refrigerator or cold room.

TIP: Designate someone to routinely check your containers (particularly if they are reusable) to make sure they are not damaged.

3. Someone Put Staples in the Recycle Bin

Combining medical waste with other waste is a big mistake. It wasn’t a needle (everyone knows how to dispose of needles), but when the item is a sharp, everything in the bin becomes contaminated. Plus, your employees risk exposure to dangerous pathogens. Putting items in the wrong container is a mistake, but when that item is a sharp, the stakes are much higher.

How to avoid this Medical Waste Disposal Mistake→Make sure your staff knows proper collection and segregation processes. Always use red bags or containers for medical waste and never include it with regular garbage.

TIP: Post handy guidelines for medical waste segregation where employees can quickly reference a chart if they have any questions.

4. You Don’t Have a Process for Continuous Improvement

Medical waste compliance is a continuous process; not just a one-time goal. Staying in compliance is easier if you have a process in place to document and measure your practice’s progress, because there is no standard procedure that fits everyone. Setting up the appropriate compliance metrics for your practice can help you track areas that need improvement as well as document improvements and milestones to share with your executive staff.

How to avoid this Medical Waste Disposal Mistake→Make sure you have a plan that includes a compliance metrics system to help manage your compliance program.

TIP: Your compliance metrics should cover each of the main elements of your compliance programs and be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timely.

5. You Don’t Know Where Your Medical Waste Goes When It Leaves Your Facility

Out of sight, out of mind—right? Wrong. Once your medical waste leaves your facility, your responsibility and liability has not ended. One provision of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) is cradle-to-grave liability, which means you remain responsible for regulated medical waste from the time it is generated and even beyond its ultimate disposal. You must ensure that your medical waste has been handled in a way that protects both human health and the environment.

How to avoid this Medical Waste Disposal Mistake→Make sure your medical practice receives the necessary documentation from your waste services provider, including a waste manifest form and a certificate of destruction after your waste is treated. (The entire waste disposal process must be documented to maintain compliance.)

TIP: Examine your waste manifest form carefully to make sure you know the exact route your medical waste will take.

Unfortunately, these are just a few of the many mistakes than can be made when it comes to proper handling and disposal of medical waste. It can be a complicated process. Improper handling and disposal of regulated medical waste can endanger your patients, medical staff, and even the general public—not to mention, expose your practice to citations and fines. Your medical waste services provider can answer any questions you have about the handling, treatment, disposal, and final destruction of your practice’s medical waste. Another way to avoid mistakes is to post clear instructions in your office about how to your practice’s medical waste streams. Download our convenient Medical Waste Handling Guide today.


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