To understand the details of medical waste, you should be familiar with some of the compliance facts, and that includes sharps handling and disposal. 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.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards.  In 2015, a joint WHO/UNICEF assessment found that 58% of facilities from 24 different countries had acceptable protocols in place for the safe disposal of healthcare waste, including sharps waste.  Sharps waste is and will always be infectious waste that carries the most risk, just because of what sharps do.  Here’s the lowdown on sharps and sharps waste.

Sharps waste is not just about needles.

Sharps waste includes:

  • Suture needles, scalpel blades, butterflies
  • Diabetic lancets and insulin needles
  • Vacutainer tubes (blood collection tube), both plastic and glass
  • Phlebotomy needles with vacutainer tube holder attached
  • Capillary tubes, both plastic and glass
  • IV catheters
  • Dental wires and endodontic files
  • Expired or used epinephrine auto-injectors

Sharps not disposed of properly can cause several environmental issues.

Because sharps may be contaminated with infectious disease, sharps not disposed of properly can spread infection.  They can clog sewers and threaten public safety,  as they may be contaminated with hepatitis, HIV, and/or other serious diseases.

Sharps waste is partially responsible for current laws and regulations.

In the late 1980s, beaches were being littered with disposed syringes, medications, and other healthcare-related waste.  Laws such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988 further advanced sharps regulations.

Sharps come with their own disposal regulations.

The FDA Sharps Disposal Guidelines state that used sharps can only be disposed of in a sharps container. Sharps containers must be made of puncture-resistant plastic with leak-resistant sides and bottom. They also must have a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid.

Sharps containers must not overfill.

Sharps containers must absolutely be discarded when reaching the fill line on the label, which is approximately ¾ full.  

Sharps are a necessity for diagnostics, medication administration, testing, and treatment in the healthcare industry, but because of their risks of infection, managing sharps waste is a priority for any healthcare office or agency.  Know your sharps facts and stay up to date on all required safety and training.

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