Medical Waste Classifications: The Basics

How waste is classified will determine how it should be handled and disposed of.

Medical care is vital for the health and well being of our society, but the waste generated from medical procedures poses a problem for the natural world. It is imperative that healthcare facilities, as well as other medical waste generators understand the importance of medical waste classification, as this will determine how and when the waste is disposed of.

What are medical waste classifications and how can facilities implement a strategy for keeping waste organized?

First, let’s define what constitutes medical waste.

Regulated medical waste includes, but is not limited to:

  • Infectious waste, such as bodily fluids, human or animal tissue, blood-soaked bandages, discarded surgical gloves, cultures, stocks, and swabs.
  • Biohazardous waste, including sharps such as needles, syringes, lancets, scalpels, tubing and more.

Many states categorize waste into the following categories:

  • Cultures and stocks
  • Human blood, blood products
  • Sharps
  • Animal waste

The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized biomedical waste into eight categories, including:

  • General Waste
  • Infectious or dangerous waste
  • Radioactive
  • Chemical
  • Pathological
  • Pressurized containers
  • Pharmaceuticals

It’s important to note that not all medical waste can be packaged together, so it’s imperative to separate waste into containers for compliance reasons.

OSHA requires that the following be marked and clearly labeled when it comes to classifying your medical waste:

  • Contaminated sharps must be placed in containers that are puncture resistant, closable, leak-proof, and labeled or color-coded;
  • Specimens of blood or other biohazardous materials must be placed in a container that is labeled, color-coded and closed prior to being stored, transported or shipped;
  • Labels must include the biohazard symbol, be fluorescent orange or orange-red, with lettering and symbols in contrasting color, and affixed as closely as possible to the container by adhesive or wire to prevent loss or removal.

Whether you’re a small doctor’s office or a large healthcare facility, it’s critical to train all of your employees on all of the medical waste classifications. By training employees in waste classifications, you can make sure everything goes smoothly and there no potentially hazardous situations.

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