How to Manage SHARPS DISPOSAL Safely and Effectively

August 1, 2005

How to Manage SHARPS DISPOSAL Safely and Effectively

Q: What is the scope of thesharps-exposure challenge in the healthcare environment?

A: Our communities are served by morethan 8 million healthcare workers who have chosen to dedicate their lives tohelping others. These same workers experience 600,000 to 800,000 needlesticksand percutaneous injuries each year. While most needlesticks involve nursingstaff, other individuals in the hospital are at risk too, including laboratorystaff, physicians, and housekeeping environmental services personnel. In somecases, the healthcare worker is exposed to bloodborne pathogens that can lead topotentially life-threatening infections.

Q: What are the most common bloodbornepathogens associated with sharps injuries?

A: The most noteworthy pathogens thatare of greatest concern to healthcare workers include hepatitis B virus (HBV),hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Infectionsgenerated through a needlestick or percutaneous injury by any of thesebloodborne pathogens can be life-threatening. The National Institute forOccupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) states that many percutaneous injuriesresult in severe and long-lasting emotional distress, causing some healthcareworkers to quit their jobs as a result of the exposure.

Q: What are the most frequent types ofsharps injuries?

A: NIOSH suggests that 42 percent of manyneedlestick 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 disposeof used needles in a puncture-resistant sharps container. Additionally, theOccupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends engineeringcontrols and workplace practices to minimize healthcare worker exposure tosyringes and needles that may ultimately cause harm.

Q: How can we promote sharps safetyand reduce needlestick injuries?

A: As the first step, eliminatesharps-management programs that are reactive as opposed to proactive, and whichrequire multiple steps and coordination between several departments. In manycases, the materials management department purchases, inventories, and delivers singleuse disposable sharps container to the floors, including the emergencydepartment and the operating room. When the container is full, housekeepingenvironmental services personnel enters the picture and replaces full containerswith empty containers. Frequently, when a container is full, the nursing orclinical staff must exchange sharps containers.

In the end, the single-use disposable container is discardedinto the waste stream by the environmental services or facilities managementteam. Eliminating the unnecessary handling of sharps containers can furtherreduce sharps injuries. As suggested by OSHA, the investigation andimplementation of engineering controls and workplace practices will reducepotentially harmful and unnecessary needlesticks. While most needlesticksinvolve the nursing staff, others in the hospital staff are also are at riskthrough repeated and unnecessary contact with sharps containers.

Q: What is the most effective andcost-efficient way to manage sharps disposal in the healthcare setting?

A: The introduction of asharps-management program using reusable sharps containers and well-trainedhospital-based service technicians may reduce the risk of needlestick injuries.Through these turnkey programs, a service technician visits the hospital on apre-established schedule to replace the reusable sharps containers beforethey get full.

Containers are transported to a sharps disposal facility anddisposed of through the use of automation, thus further reducing the possibilityof unnecessary needlestick injuries to others downstream in the sharps-managementprocess. The reusable container is cleaned, disinfected, and inspected usingspecially designed and validated equipment. Inprocess inspections are performedon an hourly basis to ensure compliance with the Food and Drug Administration(FDA)s rules and regulations.

Several governing bodies recommend guidelines for safe sharpsmanagement:

  • OSHA requires that sharps containers be replacedroutinely and not be allowed to be overfilled

  • The Federal Department of Transportation (FDOT) monitorsand regulates the transportation of sharps and requires that all containers becapped before they are transported on the open road

  • NIOSH suggests anindividual or group be assigned the responsibility of regular monitoring andmaintenance of sharps disposal containers.

This designee should monitor the fill level of the containerand be responsible for changing out containers before they are filled Theimplementation of a turnkey sharps management program supports healthcareproviders in meeting the requirements of OSHA, FDOT, and NIOSH as recognizedadvocates to ensure employee health, safety, and well-being.

Q: How can industry help support thesharps-related/bloodborne pathogen best practices guidelines from regulatoryentities such as OSHA?

A: A turnkey sharps management program isa proactive service to help hospitals improve employee safety and to control thecost of doing business while protecting and preserving the environment. Employeesafety is important. An emphasis on employee safety helps you protect yourwell-trained and valuable team. When the containers are exchanged by a servicetechnician before they get full, the risk of accidental needle sticks isdramatically reduced. The cost of doing business continues to increase. Mostturnkey sharps management programs are available for a pre-determined flat rate a fixed-cost solution when benchmarked against the variable cost ofdisposing single-use sharps containers.

As a healthcare professional, you care about the environmentand its impact on the health of future generations. Turnkey sharps managementprograms use FDA-compliant reusable sharps collection containers thus reducingthe volume of waste generated and disposed of via the landfill.