How Proper Medical Waste Disposal Prevents Spread of Disease
March 17, 2020

Production of waste is natural in the healthcare systems. As a consequence, waste management of healthcare waste disposal is a vital part of healthcare provisions. In the United States alone, there are more than four million tons of healthcare-related waste generated each year. Disposing of this waste consumes up to twenty percent of an average healthcare facility’s operating budget every year. The staff in these facilities are also involved in the management and production of this waste in some capacity or another.

Why Medical Waste is a Risk for the Spread of Disease

Waste generated in healthcare facilities passes through a number of hands. It moves along from the patient to the physician or medical staff, to procurement, and then on to the disposal staff. In each of these handlings, the risk of infection from the contaminated waste passes to all those involved, from its creation to its ultimate disposal.

A lot of the risks come from the blood-borne viruses. They include the human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B. These three infections are often associated with healthcare waste as are:

  • Multi-drug resistant bacterial organisms
  • Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus
  • Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase organisms
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Virulent infectious agents
  • And others

It is imperative to have strategic programs that are monitored and performed with vigilance when dealing with medical waste. These programs are what will ensure the safety of patients, staff, and members of the community where each facility is located.

What Happens if Proper Medical Waste Disposal is not Performed?

If a medical facility does not have a concrete policy in place for managing their medical waste properly, it can have disastrous consequences. If a healthcare facility ignores proper waste disposal management of their waste, it not only endangers their patients, it begins a cycle of infection outside of the facility and in the community.

There are four major groups at risk when a healthcare facility fails to handle their medical waste properly:

  • Patients
  • Physicians and all staff members
  • Waste procurement staff
  • The public

Risk to Patients When Disease is Spread Through Medical Waste

Poor waste management frequently affects a patient’s health. A study done on global waste management found evidence to show more than thirty percent of injections given in one country were done with previously used equipment.

Reusing medical equipment creates a significant risk of spreading infectious diseases. Vaccinations are some of the more common medical procedures that spread these diseases. The reusing of any sharp equipment can spread infections between patients, as well as between the patient and the healthcare provider.

Risk to Healthcare Providers When Disease is Spread Through Medical Waste

If medical waste is not properly handled, it can pose a severe hazard to medical staff and doctors, which in turn will also affect their patients. In a survey conducted with medical interns, it showed only about seventeen percent of them used puncture-resistant containers to dispose of their needles and other sharp equipment. The study also showed that only about forty percent of these interns avoided recapping used needles.

When safe medical waste disposal procedures are not followed correctly, such as those needed with sutures, scissors, and needles, the doctor is not the only one at risk of disease, but they also put others at risk. The danger they carry with improper handling of medical waste disposal carries to other staff members, as well as their family, patients, and the community. The risk is also carried to the hazard waste procurement staff.

Risk to Waste Procurement Staff When Disease is Spread Through Medical Waste

The staff in charge of hazardous waste disposal, or procurement staff, are at a dangerous risk to exposed infectious agents when medical waste is not properly managed. In a review of hazardous medical waste handlers, it was discovered that almost all workers had experienced contamination in their clothing from blood splashes. Further, it was noted that workers often experience complete saturation of clothing layers from body fluids and blood once in about every 150 hours of work.

Medical waste staff collectors in clinics around the world are not always adequately trained in infection control procedures, along with the importance of preventing infections to themselves. One study of these waste workers showed they often reopen packaged waste to re-segregate or separate it. They also do not always wash their hands after removing gloves, and often do not use face masks. There is a high rate of hepatitis B, enteric pathogen infections, and pulmonary tuberculosis among these workers.

When medical waste staff collectors are not properly trained, it not only puts them at risk but the community at large.

Risk to the Public When Disease is Spread Through Medical Waste

Once medical waste leaves the facility where it was generated, it can pose a threat to the public by spreading infections, which lead to diseases. Your hazardous waste disposal service must use proper methods to dispose of your waste.

When healthcare waste is improperly handled, it increases the chances for lethal agents to come in contact with the general public. The spread of hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV and other multidrug resistant organisms, multiply as they spread from patient to doctors to waste handlers, and then finally to the public.

How to Minimize Transmission of Diseases Through Medical Waste

A strategy is needed to minimize the possibility of infectious healthcare waste materials being able to spread diseases. The first and most important consideration is the methods being used by medical staff and the waste management personnel. Both of these groups need to be trained on how to implement safe disposal and how to monitor the facility’s waste management plan.

The size and how complex the medical facility is will also play an essential part of the strategy in developing a medical waste disposal management plan. Financial resources are also a necessary part of the program.

Regardless of how large your medical facility is and how much your budget is for disposing of your medical waste, there are key principles you must implement in your medical waste management plan:

  • You have to properly train all staff members on how to handle hazardous medical waste. Doctors must be using proper disposal of medical waste as well as all medical staff and waste disposal employees.
  • There has to be a set of protocols and policies in place for how the waste management plan will be handled. Appropriate supervision should be put into place for all staff to make sure policies are implemented and followed.
  • Waste has to be appropriately separated. Scissors, scalpels, needles, and any other sharp equipment should be separated from that which is considered ‘non-contaminated’ such as paper products and food. Contaminated wastes, all sharps, and non-contaminated waste should be separated and placed in clearly marked containers from the point where they were generated all the way through to the hazardous waste disposal service.
  • If you properly segregate your non-contaminated waste, it can be disposed of through conventional waste management methods as it is not considered dangerous.
  • Properly handle all one-time use and multiple-use medical equipment. Surgical gloves and needles must be disposed of after use, and multiple-use items cannot just be cleaned- they should be sterilized before the next patient uses them.
  • Keep your community informed. Talk to your local community leaders regarding the acceptable methods for waste disposal. It would be best if you also considered which medical waste disposal would have the least impact on the environment of the community you are located in.

When you implement these key principles, you have started on the right path to creating an effective medical waste management strategy. These should be your core themes around the strategy you put into place for your specific facility. With these principles, you will be able to establish your healthcare waste disposal plan, along with the proper protocols and policies. Evidence has proven these principals have been effective at reducing the risk of spreading diseases through the transmission of medical waste.

Medical Waste Management and How Segratation Reduces the Risk of Spreading Disease through Medical Waste 

One of the most basic and vital steps your facility can take is to segregate overall waste production. It would be best if you had this segregation precisely outlined in your waste management program. Studies from around the globe show this is not always implemented in healthcare. Compliance with medical waste segregation needs proper monitoring and has to be done consistently to reduce the risk of spreading diseases through medical waste.

Medical waste has to be separated into categories such as ‘sharps,’ ‘infectious,’ or ‘non-infectious.’ Making these segratations can provide your facility with a number of benefits. The first and most significant benefit is segregation allows for easy identification of potentially dangerous and infectious materials. This identification will ensure the safety of your waste workers.

The second benefit is that separating your infectious wastes and sharps from the general waste can save you money in regard to how much you spend on the waste that requires special treatment. There are economic advantages if you properly separate your non-contaminated materials from those that are contaminated as it is more costly and complex to dispose of medical, hazardous waste materials properly.

Another benefit when you are consistent in separating materials that require incineration from that which does not, you will significantly decrease the amount of environmental air pollutants created by waste incineration. When you take steps to reduce the amount of infectious medical waste that do not require destruction, you create a simple method of ensuring scarce resources are not misallocated.

One of the most important methods to make sure your facility is using proper handling of healthcare waste and reducing the risk of spreading disease is to train and educate all staff members properly. If your staff is well-trained and aware, they are more likely to feel invested in the waste management plan.

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