OSHA requires employers to “provide appropriate PPE for workers who could be exposed to blood or other infectious materials (such as internal bodily fluids).” Commonly used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers include gloves, gowns, goggles, masks, and face shields. While some of those items may be reusable, the majority are single-use items requiring disposal after use. Though OSHA defines what level of contamination requires disposal as regulated medical waste, state regulations may have more strict definitions of what PPE must be disposed of as regulated medical waste (RMW).
Do your employees know how to tell the difference?
Proper training on waste segregation – for PPE and other medical-related wastes – can help you create a safer workplace, keep you regulatory compliant, and save on medical waste disposal costs.
Many Facilities Face Rising Costs for PPE Procurement & Disposal
The COVID-19 pandemic put healthcare providers in a double bind: as demand for PPE increased, so did the cost to purchase it.
However, medical waste disposal costs also increased for many medical facilities due to the over-classification of COVID-related PPE as RMW. Initial uncertainty about modes of disease transmission led many to err on the side of caution and treat all PPE as RMW. Later guidance from OSHA and the CDC indicated that most COVID-related PPE could be disposed of in regular trash.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC released guidance specific to COVID-19 waste, which determined that the virus is a Category B infectious substance. This means PPE and other medical waste generated in the treatment of patients with COVID-19 can be managed in the same way as other waste related to Category B infectious substances, in contrast to the more hazardous Category A infectious waste generated in the management of diseases such as Ebola.”
In most states, this means that only PPE that is grossly contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials to the extent that such substances could be released upon handling should be treated as RMW. The rest can be disposed of in regular trash.
However, remember that several states and industries have more stringent guidelines for the management of PPE waste during the COVID-19 pandemic. Always check with your appropriate regulatory agencies for handling and disposal guidelines.
Read our September 2021 updated guide to COVID medical waste to learn more about waste disposal requirements for healthcare settings and other industries.
Strategies to Lower PPE and RMW Disposal Costs
Because PPE may have been in contact with bloodborne pathogens or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), some waste generators place all of it in red biohazard bags to be disposed of as regulated medical waste “just in case.” This is an expensive mistake!
RMW disposal costs are as much as ten times higher than for municipal trash. Even small reductions in quantities can result in big savings.
- Make waste segregation easy: Use color to provide visual cues. For example, RMW waste goes in red containers, recycling in green, regular trash in brown, etc. Place them conveniently for staffers, but separate them so that red bag containers aren’t side-by-side with regular trash.
- Use posters and visual aids: Place informational posters or other visual aids above waste containers. Employees can quickly see what type of waste is permitted in each container. Sharps Compliance provides posters and training materials to all our customers to help them properly segregate wastes.
- Use the proper size collection containers: Small RMW containers in exam and patient rooms make it harder for patients and workers to treat them as regular trash containers. We can help you determine the most appropriate size of medical waste recovery systems for your facility.
- Employee training: No healthcare worker wants to make a mistake and unintentionally spread disease or injure someone. Without proper training, employees may err on the side of caution: if they’re not absolutely sure it’s safe, it goes in the red bag. That means your biohazardous medical waste containers may be full of used gloves and gowns instead of actual regulated medical waste products. Those bloated red bags can break your RMW disposal budget, but simple staff training can fix this, using resources like the complementary segregation posters provided to Sharps customers.
State training requirements differ, but OSHA requires orientation training and annual refresher training for employees who have regular or occasional potential for exposure to bloodborne pathogens or OPIM. Additionally, facilities that have direct pickup of RMW must also provide DOT training.
Sharps Compliance Can Help
Sharps Compliance is a leading single-source provider of regulatory-compliant services for healthcare professionals. We offer comprehensive waste management services for sharps, medical waste, and pharmaceutical wastes. With our service, there are no contracts or hidden fees.
Contact us to request a service quote or call 1.800.772.5657 for more information about how we can help you stay compliant and save money on disposal costs.