There are a lot of things to keep in mind when it comes to the right way to dispose of used needles or sharps. With over 385,000 injuries occurring among healthcare workers every year, CDC also states that between 62 % to 88 % of injuries can be prevented by simply using safer medical devices.
With almost 16,000 cases of Hepatitis C, 66,000 cases of Hepatitis B, and 1,000 cases of HIV infections occurring due to sharp injuries to healthcare workers alone. The fraction of infections with HCV, HBV, and HIV in HCWs attributable to occupational exposure to percutaneous injuries fraction reaches 39%, 37%, and 4.4% respectively. This astounding and deeply saddening figure can be reduced by taking the right steps to properly dispose of sharps.
What are sharps?
Sharps waste is a form of biomedical waste composed of used “sharps”, which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. Sharps waste falls under biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled as it tends to spread infections quite easily. Common medical materials treated as sharps waste are hypodermic needles, disposable scalpels and blades, contaminated glass and certain plastics, and guidewires used in surgery.
When it comes to blades, razors, scalpels, X-Acto knives, and scissors all fall under medical wastes if they have been used in a medical setting whether they came in contact with bio-hazardous material or not.
Certain glass items used in surgery are also treated as sharps, even if unbroken, as they can break during the process of disposal.
Apart from needles and blades, syringes also fall under the category of sharps.
How to dispose of sharp wastes properly?
This question is something almost all hospitals and other establishments struggle with, by following the aforementioned steps, the process of dealing with sharps will be simplified quite a bit:
1. Use FDA approved sharps disposal containers:
FDA approved sharps disposal containers are quite easily obtainable through most pharmacies, medical supply providers, healthcare companies, and online.
Professionally tested and approved by FDA certified experts, these containers are some of the best in terms of both safety and effectiveness. These were designed specifically to minimize the risk of injury and infections from sharps.
These FDA cleared containers are made from rigid plastic and come marked with a line that is supposed to indicate when the container is full. If the container is disposable, then it is time to dispose of that container, else, it is a sign to contact the healthcare provider to take care of the given containers.
If in a critical situation where there are no sharps contains to be found, any container of the given specifications may be used:
• made of a heavy-duty plastic;
• able to close with a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid, without sharps being able to come out;
• upright and stable during use;
• leak-resistant; and
• properly labeled to warn of hazardous waste inside the container.
2. Place all needles and other sharps in the container immediately:
It is absolutely essential that sharps are disposed of immediately so as to reduce the risk of needle sticks, cuts, and punctures from loose sharps. Sharps disposal containers should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.
Remember to dispose of sharps when the container is about 3 quarters full as overfilling can significantly increase the risks of accidental needlestick injury.
Never re-use sharps disposal containers.
When leaving home, remember to carry small, pocket-sized sharps disposal containers in case no other means of disposal is available.
If traveling by plane, check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for up-to-date rules on what to do with the sharps. To make the trip through airport security easier, label the medicines with the type of medicine and the manufacturer’s name or a drug store label, along with a letter from the doctor.
3. Disposing of all sharps containers as per community guidelines:
The specific guidelines on how to dispose of sharps vary depending on where one comes from. However, there are some simple rules to follow that will ensure that the sharps are disposed of in a way that will not harm anybody. Here are the points to follow:
• DropBox or Supervised Collection Sites:
There may be a drop off allowed for sharps in a suitable collection site which may include doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health departments, medical waste facilities, and police or fire stations. These may be free or charge a small nominal fee.
• Household Hazardous Waste programs:
In certain places, one might be able to drop off these sharps at a local household hazardous waste collection site. These sites commonly accept hazardous materials like household cleaners, paints, and motor oils.
• Mail back programs:
Certain FDA-cleared sharps disposal containers can be mailed to a collection site for proper disposal, usually for a fee. The fees vary, depending on the size of the container. Follow the container manufacturer’s instructions because mail-back programs may have specific requirements on how to label sharps disposal containers.
• Waste pick up services:
Different communities have different ways of functioning. A community may provide some special waste disposal service that sends trained waste handlers to collect sharps from the household. These are typically fee-based and have special requirements for the types of containers collected. Some require customers to call for their sharps to be collected, others offer regular schedules.
There are agencies that operate throughout the country with FDA approval such as Daniel’s health sharps disposal which provides trained professionals in various locations to dispose of these sharps in the fastest and most efficient ways.
The advantages of agencies like Daniels health are:
Companies like Daniels health operate with licenses issued by the government. This means that all of their disposal methods have been approved by the federal agencies and the waste is being treated as per protocol.
In Hospital disposal:
The company’s new method of disposing of sharps and other objects into safe and protected bins to ensure that it doesn’t come in contact with anybody and remains isolated from the patients as well as anyone else.
These companies operate much faster than standard companies as their disposal methods begin from the moment the bio waste is placed into their designated spots. With this, the final act of taking the waste away from the establishment can be done extremely quickly.
Unlike other agencies, companies like Daniel’s Health show a lot of respect towards the disposal process and ensure it is as clean and green as possible.
This agency puts the effort to educate each member of staff on how to use the disposal systems and how exactly they function. This will ensure that the staff will not face any trouble when it comes to the actual usage of these systems.
• Additional information that can be different depending on different State laws:
◦ types of sharps containers that can be used,
◦ disposal programs in the area,
◦ how to label these sharps disposal containers,
◦ how to secure the lid of sharps disposal container, and
◦ whether sharps disposal containers can be thrown away in the common trash.
4. What to do when unable to find a suitable disposal container?
The safest way to dispose of a used needle is to immediately place it in a sharps disposal container to reduce the risk of needle sticks, cuts, and punctures from loose sharps. If finding a sharps disposal container right away is not possible, there may be need to recap the needle or use a needle clipper unti there occurs an opportunity to dispose of sharps in an appropriate sharps disposal container. Remember never to throw used needles in the trash by themselves or flush them down the drain as it could lead to serious injuries.
Here are some notes about various procedures that might be helpful:
• While putting the cap back on the needle remember never to bend or break the needle or try to remove the needle by hand. Recapping should be done either by a mechanical device or the one-handed method given under:
Step 1: Place the cap on a flat surface like the table or counter with something firm to “push” the needle cap against.
Step 2: Holding the syringe with the needle attached in one hand, slip the needle into the cap without using the other hand.
Step 3: Push the capped needle against a firm object to “seat” the cap onto the needle firmly using only one hand.
• Needle clippers are used to make needles unusable by clipping the needle as the name implies. These can only be employed in the disposal of small needles such as insulin syringes but not lancets.
The needle clipper safely cuts off the needle tip and safely retains it within itself, thus, preventing any possible injury.
These simple tips as well as adhering to the community guidelines for disposal of such waste can help in keeping ourselves and the healthcare workers safe.