In the healthcare industry, employees are trained to look out for the well-being of others and often forget to protect their own welfare. However, when dealing with medical waste, there are risks that every healthcare worker should be aware of and avoid. Although many of the recommended actions may seem obvious, they are important reminders that can make a substantial difference in the quality of life.
Therefore, health workers should:
- Immediately wash hands with soap and water after handling waste
- Abstain from touching face, mouth, eyes, nose or open sores when handling waste
- Before and after using the toilet, wash hands with soap and water, if waste has been recently handled
- Before eating, remove work clothes and have your meal in a designated area that’s away from any waste activities
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
All health workers who interact with medical waste should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) by their employers. In addition, training and access to hand-washing facilities must be offered as well. Similar to the direct handling of waste, employees are advised to wash their hands with soap and water promptly after removing PPE.
PPE items that are recommended for health workers to wear when necessary include:
- Protective face mask or face shield
- Rubber boots
In addition to personal measures workers should follow to maintain their health, it’s crucial that medical sharps waste is properly contained. This protocol will help eliminate or minimize exposure to hazardous materials or substances so that every worker’s health is not threatened.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), certain steps should be taken in the handling of medical waste. Then specific packaging requirements must be followed. While OSHA offers clear recommendations, it’s important to recognize that most states also have their own version of rules related to containing medical waste.
OSHA’s containment guidelines include:
- Develop a history of waste handling, collection, treatment, transport and disposal
- Make sure that waste has a final location for disposal
- Always use puncture-proof containers for sharps
- Clearly mark and label outer packaging using OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard
- Make sure that the outsides of all waste containers are not contaminated
- Follow procedure to decontaminate the outside of bags that go into containers
Above all, training is absolutely crucial for all health workers who associate in any way with medical waste. If there is even the slightest interaction with infectious waste, employees need to be taught best practices in accordance with OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen standard. The education is designed to offer medical professionals effective methods to reduce exposure, understand engineering controls and work procedures.
Health care employees are dedicated to helping patients overcome disease. But health workers can be just as vulnerable to medical issues, if they are not careful while handling infectious waste. However, by following the above guidelines, workers can protect themselves from contracting illnesses while fulfilling their critical roles within the health care industry.
Learn more about MedPro’s OSHA Compliance Training services.
(image credit “UCLA IMG Program group Picture” by Gilcota – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons)