The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of the waste produced by hospitals is hazardous. This type of material can be infectious, radioactive or toxic to the surrounding environment and to those who come in contact with it. That's why health care companies must explicitly state their objectives for handling hazardous waste.
Know Your Role
As a business owner or decision maker, you must know your role in waste management. You and the other decision makers in your health care organization are responsible for keeping everyone from nurses to waste handlers to the people in your town safe from hazardous waste. Knowing that the other people in your company will follow your lead, make it a goal to design thorough policies and procedures. This way, if something goes wrong, the solution will be clear and your employees can make the right decisions.
Follow Legal Standards
While laws can be slow to catch up to best practices, your bare minimum standard for waste management should be to follow all federal, state and local regulations. Because these laws can be complex and can vary between jurisdictions, you may want to hire a lawyer to look over your plans and ensure compliance.
On the state level, you should look for regulations from the agencies that oversee health and the environment. While some states focus heavily on one side or the other, some jurisdictions split the duties evenly. Whatever rules these agencies put forth, you should ensure your plan abides by them.
Your waste management strategy must also follow regulations from the federal government. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets rules about how employers should keep employees safe from harm, including when they are handling waste. These rules keep workers safe when they are on the job. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also oversee medical waste.
Protect Human Health
The laws that regulate toxic waste disposal are not without good reason. If a person gets exposed to medical waste before it goes through decontamination, the person can become ill. In some cases, the waste was used as part of a radiation treatment and is still radioactive.
Other times, the waste may be bodily fluids from a person with a contagious disease. These illnesses can be as common as the flu or as deadly as Ebola. Sharp medical waste, such as needles and scalpels, can injure a person. Furthermore, if these were used on a person with an infectious disease like HIV, the disease could transfer.
Because this waste can be so harmful to human health, it's vital that one of the main goals of waste management is minimizing these risks. This starts with disposing of waste in separate and safe receptacles. The entire process from that point should keep human health in mind until the waste is deemed safe and put in with the general trash.
Since improperly handled medical waste can spread disease and cause outbreaks, the CDC has guidelines for proper disposal. You should take care to follow the CDC's guidelines and regulations whether you legally have to or not.
Keep the Earth Safe
In much the same way that toxic waste can hurt people, it can cause serious damage to the environment. For example, if some radioactive medical waste makes its way to a water source, it can ruin the ecosystem of the lake. If anyone drinks water from it, he could also get sick.
To keep such a tragedy from occurring, you should always maintain environmental safety as one of your goals in medical waste management. Being environmentally responsible also helps you meet the other two major goals. The safety of the environment around people directly affects their health. Furthermore, your state's environmental agency may have regulations on the subject.
- World Health Organization: Health-Care Waste
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: HBV Testing and Vaccines, Regulated Medical Waste, and Sole Proprietorship
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Biologic and Infectious Waste
- Environmental Protection Agency: Medical Waste Frequent Questions
- Healthcare Environmental Resource Center: OSHA Standards for Bloodborne Pathogens