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What You Need to Know About Biohazardous Waste

Medical Waste Goes Beyond the Doctor’s Office

Infectious waste can be generated just about anywhere. That’s why it’s important for all businesses to be ready for it. Places like barber shops and animal shelters encounter biohazard waste on a daily basis, while high-traffic areas like airports and casinos train their staff in preparation. For the safety of your employees and your customers, learn how to deal with biohazardous waste properly.

What Is Considered Biohazardous Waste?

Biohazardous waste is defined as any waste products potentially carrying human pathogens or infectious materials. It is also known as infectious or medical waste. Unlike other types of hazardous waste, biohazardous material is not covered by federal environmental laws or US EPA regulations. Instead, it is typically overseen by state environmental agencies, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Transportation. 

Blood and bodily fluids, which can transmit disease, need the most careful handling, followed by sharp waste like needles, blades, glass and other items that could cause injury during transport. To prevent infection, it is best to handle all biological materials as if they contain an infectious disease. With that in mind, most states have regulations for packaging, storage, recordkeeping and transportation of all medical waste. Some require facilities that deal with biohazards to register and obtain a permit

From generation and handling to storage and disposal, learn how to keep your employees safe while handling medical waste.

Businesses That Generate Biohazard Waste

Hospitals and laboratories are likely the first places that come to mind when you think of biohazardous waste. Facilities like these are often considered “large quantity generators.” Some states require high-volume facilities like these to register with the EPA. But plenty of other businesses generate infectious waste in varying quantities, including:

  • Barbershops 
  • Blood banks
  • Airports
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Park maintenance departments
  • Dental practices
  • Physician’s offices
  • Exterminators
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Funeral homes
  • Schools
  • Hotels
  • Jails and prisons
  • Casinos
  • Malls
  • Veterinary clinics and shelters
  • Emergency care clinics

Examples of Biohazardous Waste

Biohazardous waste typically falls into one of six categories: solid, liquid, sharps, pathological, animal or microbiological.

Solid Waste
  • Soiled gloves
  • Soiled towels
  • Cultures
  • Pipettes
  • Used gowns
  • Bandages
Liquid Waste
  • Blood
  • Cerebral spinal fluid
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Saliva
  • Other bodily fluids
Sharps Waste
  • Needles
  • Scalpels
  • Broken glass
  • Syringes
  • Microscopic slides
Pathological Waste
  • Human Organs
  • Tissues
  • Body parts
Animal Waste
  • Animal carcasses
  • Body parts
Microbiological Waste
  • Specimen cultures
  • Stocks of etiologic agents
  • Disposable culture dishes
  • Discarded live and attenuated viruses

 

Does your business handle any of these items? The first step for a safe workplace is proper storage.

Guidelines for Biohazardous Waste Storage and Handling

First, make sure to order enough red biohazard waste containers for each station in your facility. For proper storage, each container should be equipped with a sealable cover. They should also be puncture-resistant, leak-proof and cleaned regularly. Your biohazard waste containers should follow the universal precautions, including water-resistant labels using the words “Sharps Waste” for all sharps and “Biohazardous Waste” for all other biohazards. Other important precautions include:

  • Any containers of biohazard waste or contaminated laundry must be clearly labeled using the universal biohazard symbol and the word “biohazard.”
  • Label refrigerators or freezers used to store blood or other potentially infectious materials with the universal biohazard symbol.
  • Make sure that your medical waste containers are easily accessible to employees and maintained in an upright position. 
  • Set up a consistent replacement schedule to ensure that your containers are never overfilled.  
  • All employees with occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens must receive initial and annual training for the proper management of sharps and other biohazard waste. 
  • Always wear protective gloves when handling biohazardous waste and dispose of them properly.

Once you understand proper storage, you also need to know the procedures for disposing of biohazards safely. Regulations for medical waste disposal can vary from state to state, so make sure to check with your local authorities. These general requirements are a great place to start. 

Biohazard Waste Container

Biohazard and Chemical Waste Disposal and Handling Guidelines

Before accumulating biohazard waste at your facility, you need a plan for routine collection and transportation. Hire a biohazard waste disposal company to collect infectious waste as frequently as possible. Follow these tips for hiring a medical waste management company:

  • Make sure your waste management company is fully insured.
  • Look for flexibility to keep up with your schedule.
  • Ensure that all paperwork is filed in compliance with local, state and federal disposal laws.
  • Find a trustworthy company with great customer service.

Keep in mind that some states require a special labelling system for the transportation of infectious waste, so check the regulations in your area.  As soon as containers are picked up by your biohazard waste management team, immediately replace them to ensure safe storage practices are always followed. Document this and all other processes for handling biohazardous waste for employees to reference.

What Happens to Medical Waste After Collection?

Safe disposal of biomedical waste reduces or eliminates its risks to humans and the environment. Typically, biohazard waste is transported to a landfill where it undergoes proper treatment. Infectious waste is often processed using one of the following methods:

  • Incineration. Commonly, waste is incinerated at high temperatures to kill the bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. It is then converted into ash and gas, and undergoes an additional cleansing process to ensure the biomedical waste is no longer hazardous. The heat from this treatment can also be used for electric power.
  • Autoclaving. With the autoclaving process, biohazardous waste enters a highly-pressurized, steam-heated chamber where it is fully sterilized.
  • Bleaching. Certain biohazardous chemicals can be broken down with bleach. The reaction causes them to gain or lose electrons, making the waste no longer hazardous.

Planning for Safe Waste Disposal at Your Organization

Biohazard waste disposal is only one aspect of a comprehensive waste management plan. You may still need a dumpster for your every day, non-hazardous trash. While every organization’s circumstances are different, the general guidelines in this article serve as a good introduction. For further information to plan for your biohazardous waste, visit:

How is biohazard waste regulated in your state? Let us know in the comments below.