Staying Healthy: Handling Hazardous Materials

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Handling hazardous materials involves different operations and depends on the type of material you need to handle and store. Hazardous materials include dangerous wastes that use materials that have properties rending them harmful to human health. Hazardous materials can include chemicals, substances that are by products of manufacturing, heavy metals, as well as household products like cleaning fluids and old batteries. Medical wastes are considered highly hazardous and there are special techniques for handling medical hazardous materials.

Types of Medical Waste

Medical waste that is generated at health care facilities needs to be contained and handled in a specific manner according to the type of waste. Medical waste handling rules and procedures are recognized by hospitals, clinics, blood banks, dental practices, and veterinary clinics. All research facilities and laboratories also have specific hazardous waste and material handling rules.

In 1988, medical waste was defined as solid waste generated in treatment, immunization and diagnosis for human beings and animals. Any research facility that tests biological materials is also covered. The items that need to be disposed of correctly include:

• Bandages that are blood soaked

• Culture dishes and other glassware used in lab testing

• Surgical gloves, surgical instrument

• Needles used to give immunizations, shots or draw blood (medical sharps)

• All stocks, swabs, and cultures used to inoculate

• Removed body organs such as limbs, appendices, tonsils, gall bladder stones and so forth

• All discarded and used lancets.

Discarding Hazardous Materials

If waste needles and other sharps are not disposed of properly there is a health danger to the public. Thrown away needles may contain a risk of needle stick wounds that can cause bloodborne pathogen infections as well as other serious infectious disease contaminations. There is also the risk of potential infections when cases break open inside trash bags or when needles are sent to reconditioning facilities by mistake.

The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, which is comprised of business and community groups plus government and medical workers, promotes awareness and solutions for the safe disposal of syringes, needles and other medical sharps.

It is imperative that safe disposal and handling program be implemented. Instead of throwing away sharp items (aka “sharps”) and needles in the trash, you are required to use certain containers and/or mail back programs.

• Drop boxes or supervised collection sites allow sharps users to utilize a red sharps container for used needles disposal. There are collection sites in doctor's offices, pharmacies, health departments or hospitals. Some fire stations also accept sharps containers destined for disposal.

• Mail back programs are available for sharps users to place their used needles and sharps in special containers and mail the back to the manufacturer. This is a fee based service and fees do vary depending on the size of your container.

• There are syringe exchange programs that allow sharps users to interchange used needles for new needles. These programs can be found by searching for syringe exchange on the Internet.

However you handle your hazardous medical waste, remember that improperly discarding sharps, needles and syringes can constitute a health risk. Stay healthy by learning how to handle hazardous medical waste.

For more information, please visit our Handling Hazardous Materials Training website.
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