How to Manage SHARPS DISPOSAL Safely and Effectively
Q: What is the scope of the sharps-exposure challenge in the healthcare environment?
A: Our communities are served by more than 8 million healthcare workers who have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others. These same workers experience 600,000 to 800,000 needlesticks and percutaneous injuries each year. While most needlesticks involve nursing staff, other individuals in the hospital are at risk too, including laboratory staff, physicians, and housekeeping environmental services personnel. In some cases, the healthcare worker is exposed to bloodborne pathogens that can lead to potentially life-threatening infections.
Q: What are the most common bloodborne pathogens associated with sharps injuries?
A: The most noteworthy pathogens that are of greatest concern to healthcare workers include hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Infections generated through a needlestick or percutaneous injury by any of these bloodborne pathogens can be life-threatening. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) states that many percutaneous injuries result in severe and long-lasting emotional distress, causing some healthcare workers to quit their jobs as a result of the exposure.
Q: What are the most frequent types of sharps injuries?
A: NIOSH suggests that 42 percent of many needlestick injuries are associated with hypodermic needles and butterflies. Other sources of injuries are related to workplace practices such as recapping, transferring bodily fluids between containers, and failing to properly dispose of used needles in a puncture-resistant sharps container. Additionally, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends engineering controls and workplace practices to minimize healthcare worker exposure to syringes and needles that may ultimately cause harm.
Q: How can we promote sharps safety and reduce needlestick injuries?
A: As the first step, eliminate sharps-management programs that are reactive as opposed to proactive, and which require multiple steps and coordination between several departments. In many cases, the materials management department purchases, inventories, and delivers singleuse disposable sharps container to the floors, including the emergency department and the operating room. When the container is full, housekeeping environmental services personnel enters the picture and replaces full containers with empty containers. Frequently, when a container is full, the nursing or clinical staff must exchange sharps containers.
In the end, the single-use disposable container is discarded into the waste stream by the environmental services or facilities management team. Eliminating the unnecessary handling of sharps containers can further reduce sharps injuries. As suggested by OSHA, the investigation and implementation of engineering controls and workplace practices will reduce potentially harmful and unnecessary needlesticks. While most needlesticks involve the nursing staff, others in the hospital staff are also are at risk through repeated and unnecessary contact with sharps containers.
Q: What is the most effective and cost-efficient way to manage sharps disposal in the healthcare setting?
A: The introduction of a sharps-management program using reusable sharps containers and well-trained hospital-based service technicians may reduce the risk of needlestick injuries. Through these turnkey programs, a service technician visits the hospital on a pre-established schedule to replace the reusable sharps containers before they get full.
Containers are transported to a sharps disposal facility and disposed of through the use of automation, thus further reducing the possibility of unnecessary needlestick injuries to others downstream in the sharps-management process. The reusable container is cleaned, disinfected, and inspected using specially designed and validated equipment. Inprocess inspections are performed on an hourly basis to ensure compliance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)s rules and regulations.
Several governing bodies recommend guidelines for safe sharps management:
- OSHA requires that sharps containers be replaced routinely and not be allowed to be overfilled
- The Federal Department of Transportation (FDOT) monitors and regulates the transportation of sharps and requires that all containers be capped before they are transported on the open road
- NIOSH suggests an individual or group be assigned the responsibility of regular monitoring and maintenance of sharps disposal containers.
This designee should monitor the fill level of the container and be responsible for changing out containers before they are filled The implementation of a turnkey sharps management program supports healthcare providers in meeting the requirements of OSHA, FDOT, and NIOSH as recognized advocates to ensure employee health, safety, and well-being.
Q: How can industry help support the sharps-related/bloodborne pathogen best practices guidelines from regulatory entities such as OSHA?
A: A turnkey sharps management program is a proactive service to help hospitals improve employee safety and to control the cost of doing business while protecting and preserving the environment. Employee safety is important. An emphasis on employee safety helps you protect your well-trained and valuable team. When the containers are exchanged by a service technician before they get full, the risk of accidental needle sticks is dramatically reduced. The cost of doing business continues to increase. Most turnkey sharps management programs are available for a pre-determined flat rate a fixed-cost solution when benchmarked against the variable cost of disposing single-use sharps containers.
As a healthcare professional, you care about the environment and its impact on the health of future generations. Turnkey sharps management programs use FDA-compliant reusable sharps collection containers thus reducing the volume of waste generated and disposed of via the landfill.