Most medical waste requirements usually detail and outline definitions of what constitutes infectious waste, pathological waste, and so on. Here is one gray area…

Medical waste requirements by state do a great job of outlining what is considered medical waste and what is not. On the obvious list of medical waste includes cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals, biological production wastes, discarded live and attenuated vaccines, culture dishes, and related devices. This list usually includes liquid human and animal waste, including blood and blood products and body fluids. But what about urine, specifically urine specimen containers and pregnancy tests? Believe it or not, it actually depends on the state. For example, in Michigan, urine or materials stained with blood or body fluids don’t fall under the medical waste category. Here’s why.

The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard (and How It Relates)

The OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard defines “regulated waste” as “liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials; contaminated items that would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed; items that are caked with dried blood or other potentially infectious materials and are capable of releasing these materials during handling; contaminated sharps; and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or other potentially infectious materials.”

According to OSHA, the only way that a urine container would fall under this category is that if the specimen cup contained blood in it as well. Urine that does not contain visible blood is not regarded, under the standard, as blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM). The same applies to pregnancy tests.

The bottom line: Urine containers and pregnancy tests that do not contain visible blood would not be required to be discarded in biohazard-red labeled containers under OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard.

However, Let’s Talk About HIPAA

According to a Department of Health and Human Services FAQ on the disposal of protected health information, “covered entities must implement reasonable safeguards to limit incidental, and avoid prohibited, uses and disclosures of PHI, including in connection with the disposal of such information.”

Urine samples typically don’t have a lot of information on them, but they are still considered patient health information and must be protected as such. In this instance, a healthcare worker may put the containers in red bags just to protect the patient. While the containers themselves are not considered red bag waste, this is an extra step to ensure privacy and protection under the confines of HIPAA.

At the end of the day, it all depends on your state and your facility’s policies and procedures. It’s up to the facility to develop a policy and make sure employees follow it.

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