small business medical waste

Last updated on October 3, 2019

OSHA, OPIM, DEA, RMW, CPL-02-02-069…When you’re running a medical practice, it’s hard enough to manage the staff, serve patients, and keep up with insurance paperwork, much less stay on top of regulatory requirements and changes. You know how important it is to protect your patients, staff, and community from exposure to potentially dangerous pathogens and/or wastes, but that requires knowledge and training.

Do you need help navigating through the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies and complex medical waste regulations? Sharps Compliance is here to help.

What Is Regulated Medical Waste?

Not all medical waste is “regulated” waste. It becomes regulated medical waste (RMW) when it contains enough blood or potentially infectious materials (OPIM) to potentially spread bloodborne pathogens (BBP). BBPs are infectious microorganisms present in blood that can cause diseases in humans. Improper handling of these wastes may place your staff, community, and solid waste workers at risk for serious or life-threatening illnesses.

OSHA requires all employers to follow established standards to protect workers who may come into contact with BBP. Requirements include the following:

  • Establish an exposure control plan
  • Update the plan annually
  • Implement the use of universal precautions
  • Identify and use engineering controls
  • Identify and use work practice controls
  • Provide personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, eye protection, masks, etc.)
  • Offer hepatitis B vaccinations to all workers with occupational exposure at no cost
  • Provide post-exposure evaluation and follow-up to any worker who experiences an exposure incident.
  • Use labels and signs to communicate hazards
  • Provide information and training to all workers
  • Maintain worker medical, training, and exposure incident records

Sharps Compliance customers have access to ComplianceTrac’s library of online OSHA-compliant training modules. The online training is available 24/7, wherever and whenever your employees need it.

Online OSHA training modules include the following:

  • Bloodborne pathogens training
  • Sharps safety
  • Personal protective equipment

ComplianceTrac can also help you build compliance plans and prepare for safety audits.

Training Helps Control the Costs Associated with RMW Disposal

The cost to dispose of regulated medical waste is significantly higher compared to regular trash when you consider the containment, transportation, and treatment requirements of managing regulated waste. That’s why it’s important to train your employees on the exact definition of RMW so that they’re only putting regulated waste in the red bags, not food, packaging, pharmaceutical waste, or other common items.

You can minimize your medical waste costs by making sure that employees understand and classify waste correctly. Sharps offers industry-specific waste segregation posters to all our customers to better help them properly identify and segregate RMW.  

Follow Handling and Disposal Regulations or Pay the Consequences

Those who dispose of RMW in regular trash, dump it illegally, or fail to protect staff from preventable injuries find that the fines and penalties add up quickly. For example:

  • 2008: A Philadelphia-area dentist faced fines and criminal charges after dumping dental-type needles and other medical waste off the New Jersey shore. Beaches were closed after waste washed up on shore.
  • 2009: A Rhode Island veterinary hospital paid $20,000 to repackage a load of waste rejected by the landfill because it contained “used needles, pipettes filled with blood and a few blood samples in vials.”  The clinic could also have been fined an additional $25,000 by state regulators, who declined because they thought the clinic had “learned its lesson.”
  • 2016: A dozen University of Pittsburg Medical Center hospitals were fined $451,000 for sending untreated, possibly infectious, medical waste to a local landfill. Officials cited lack of employee training as the probable cause.
  • 2016:  Cooper University Hospital in New Jersey was fined $55,000 for failing to protect employees from needlestick injuries.

In most cases, the waste generator isn’t trying to break rules or evade regulations; they just made a mistake. But this is an area where a single error can put people in danger. Local governments and regulatory agencies take compliance seriously, and so should you.

Affordable Medical Waste Disposal and Training with Sharps Compliance

Small businesses with limited resources often struggle to comply with government regulations, and that’s particularly true in highly regulated industries like healthcare. Small to medium-sized providers have small staffs with limited knowledge and time.

Common reasons for fines and penalties include the following:

  • Incorrect waste packaging methods that don’t comply with regulations
  • Improper labeling of waste
  • Poor segregation of wastes
  • Failure to use cradle-to-grave tracking
  • Lack of adequate signs and labels in biohazard storage areas
  • Inadequate employee training
  • Lack of exposure control plan and/or failure to update existing plans at least annually

An experienced, full-service medical waste disposal company can help you avoid these mistakes. At Sharps Compliance, we work every day with medical practices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other waste generators. We have over 20 years of experience in medical waste disposal.

Services we provide include:

  • Continuous monitoring of state and federal disposal regulations. We continuously review state and federal medical waste regulations to ensure that the guidance we provide your organization reflects the most up-to-date compliance requirements. 
  • Real-time, cradle-to-grave tracking of RMW shipments. SharpsTracer is an online tracking and manifesting system that eliminates paper documentation.
  • Safety and compliance training. Staff can complete OSHA-required trainings online while employers have access to internal compliance audits and pre-developed OSHA training plans.
  • Up-to-date access to federal, state, and local regulations. Use our online regulatory information called “The Hub” to access current regulatory guidelines.
  • Environmentally responsible solutions. We’re committed to the environmentally responsible treatment of all medical and pharmaceutical wastes and strive to be a zero landfill company.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help your facility safely and effectively manage your medical waste management and disposal needs.

Wanda Voigt holds a BA in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a BBA in Business Management from Texas A&M University. In Fall 2021, Wanda will begin her Master Jurisprudence in Health Law and Policy at Texas A&M University. Wanda has over 20 years of clinical practice in both hospital and private practice practicing in various specialties.

As the Director of Regulatory Compliance, Wanda assists Sharps’ customers in evaluating current federal and state-specific medical and pharmaceutical waste regulations, implementing compliant regulated medical and pharmaceutical waste management programs and processes, and developing training programs for both internal and external customers.

published in Medical Waste