If you are a lab manager or administrator, you are certainly aware that a significant portion of the waste generated by your staff throughout the typical workday falls under the category of regulated waste. That, of course, means that your laboratory waste must be handled according to the standards and guidelines laid out by federal and state regulations. So what do you and your staff need to know to ensure that your lab remains in compliance with those regulations in the handling of medical and hazardous waste?
You must have a detailed, written plan for medical/hazardous waste management
The first thing to know about handing laboratory waste safely, efficiently and in compliance with all applicable regulations is that you need to have a comprehensive waste management plan in place. Such a plan should account for the volume and types of waste generated in your facility, and outline the proper methods for collecting, storing and disposing of each type of waste.
Depending upon the types of waste you’re dealing with, this may mean referring to guidance provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and state agencies, such as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), or the Tennessee Dept of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) to help you formulate a safe and compliant management plan.
About waste streams and proper segregation
Having a good working knowledge of the different medical/hazardous laboratory waste streams your lab produces and solid policies in place for segregation of them is important. While the categories of waste to be handled can vary from one lab to another, here are some of the more common waste streams found in the laboratory setting and how they should be segregated:
Sharps – This waste stream should include potentially contaminated needles, scalpels, broken glass and other items that prove a risk for puncture or cut injuries. These should be segregated into an approved rigid sharps container at the point of use.
Infectious waste – This category of waste should include anything that is contaminated with blood or body fluids, such as gloves used by lab staff in handing these substances or lab bench padding, for instance. Infectious waste items, other than sharps, should be segregated into approved red biohazard containers or bags.
Chemical Waste – This waste stream includes substances like alcohols, acids, flammable materials and caustic cleaning materials, for example, and should generally be be segregated into approved black Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Hazardous containers.
Pharmaceutical waste – This waste stream may include pharmaceutical drugs and other substances that are on the RCRA P, U, or D lists. These are considered RCRA Hazardous materials and must be segregated into black RCRA Hazardous containers. Pharmaceuticals that are not listed substances should be segregated into approved blue or green non-hazardous pharmaceutical containers. Pharmaceuticals that are listed by the DEA as controlled substances must be packaged separately to be destroyed by an agency-registered handler.
Radioactive waste – This type of waste includes any radioactive materials used in diagnostic testing, cancer treatment or research. These materials must be segregated into approved, sealed, black RCRA Hazardous containers.
Training is essential
Once you have a solid plan in place that outlines your lab’s policies and procedures for medical/hazardous waste management, thoroughly educating your staff is the next step to ensure they are well-equipped to follow that plan. Additionally, as a medical/hazardous waste producer, you are obligated to provide certain training to employees that is mandated by state and federal waste handling regulations. For most labs, this may include:
OSHA training, including Bloodborne Pathogens, Fire Prevention and Fire Extinguisher Types, Waste Handling and Classification Regulations, Personal Protective Equipment, Radiation Orientation, and Hazardous Communication and Chemical Safety GHS Standard training courses
EPA Pharmaceutical Waste Identification, Segregation and Disposal training
D.O.T. Hazardous Materials Transportation Regulations training
Another important thing to know about medical and hazardous waste is that, if you find the process that surrounds collection, storage, disposal and regulatory compliance confusing, firstly, you aren’t alone, and secondly, a good laboratory waste disposal provider can help. Good medical/hazardous waste companies are well-versed in all regulations that apply to their trade, and can offer solid guidance to you and your staff to keep your workplace safe, efficient and compliant with those regulations.