Sharps Disposal 101

Due to their potential to transmit disease, it is important that anyone generating sharps be aware of the requirements for their proper disposal.

Improper disposal of medical sharps can cause needlestick injuries and spread infectious diseases, which is why generators need to understand the proper (and approved) methods for safe sharps disposal.  In addition to the general population, the improper disposal of sharps more directly affects solid waste and landfill employees.  Sharps can penetrate normal containers that are used for disposal including paper bags, plastic trash bags and thin plastic containers.  According to the CDC, there are approximately 385,000 needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries to hospital-based healthcare personnel each year. Understanding the basics of sharps disposal is the first step to preventing injury and risk of infection.

What is a sharp?

In the healthcare field, a sharp isn’t a single, solitary item.  “Sharps” is actually the medical term for a sharp-pointed object that can cut or puncture the skin, and this includes needles, syringes, lancets, auto-injectors, and connection needles.

Safety before disposal!

There are some basic principles of infection control when it comes to dealing with sharps, and it is imperative that administrators and managers take action to stay healthy, avoid contact with blood and body fluids as much as possible, limit the spread of blood and body fluid contamination, and make objects safe for use.

Implementing a sharps safety program is the best defense against sharps-related injury.  OSHA recommends that institutions look at their needle devices to determine safety and check how sharps are being handled and disposed of.

Disposing sharps safely.

Healthcare facilities should establish means for the safe handling and disposal of sharps devices before the beginning of a procedure involving any kind of sharp instrument.  Discard sharps items and complete needle and syringe units directly into sharps box immediately after use, and place sharps boxes at eye level and within arm’s reach.  These are all steps to take as dictated by the FDA, which states:

  • Used sharps can only be disposed of in a sharps container
  • Sharps containers may be purchased from supply companies, such as Red Bags
  • Sharps containers must be rigid, puncture-proof, and have lids that seal securely

The FDA also states that sharps containers must absolutely be discarded when reaching the fill line on the label, which is approximately ¾ full.  To avoid contamination and injury, containers should not be overfilled, this is especially important because if any sharps are protruding through the container or opening, this can cause serious injury.  

In some states, it is illegal to throw away medical sharps in household garbage, recycling, and compost bins.  Needles and other sharps must be placed in an approved sharps container and disposed of through an approved medical waste hauler.

Incidents involving the unintentional injury of healthcare workers with used needles or other sharp materials are the most important factor in the transmission of bloodborne viruses and other pathogens.  Ensure that your facility is up to date on the latest sharps disposal protocols and keep your staff and communities safe.

Want to learn more? Follow Red Bags’ blog to be up to date on the latest happenings in the medical waste industry.

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Sharps Disposal


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