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Medical Waste Disposal: Small Mistakes Can Lead to Big Fines

Kevin Webber - Feb 28, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Medical waste disposal is serious business. Without its correct segregation, storage, containment, handling, and disposal, medical waste can potentially transmit infectious diseases or other hazardous risks to healthcare workers, the public, waste handlers, and the environment.

medical-waste-disposal-penaltyIn the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put in place numerous regulations for proper hazardous waste disposal and waste removal processes. If your facility fails to adhere to these regulations, it faces the risk of fines, penalties, and other serious consequences.

Compliance is essential in medical waste disposal

It makes no difference what size or volume of medical waste your facility generates for its disposal to fall under these strict rules. Big or small, every waste generator is held to the same federal and state regulations.

Since medical professionals, administrators, and staff are seldom also lawyers, it can be challenging to stay up-to-date with federal and local laws and regulations. But it's essential to educate yourself on these requirements, as your facility is solely responsible for its own waste disposal. Even if the medical waste disposal company you hire is at fault for improper disposal, your facility is still legally responsible for the destruction of waste by that company.

Who regulates medical waste disposal?

Many practices mistakenly assume that the only medical waste disposal guidelines that need to be followed are the ones set forth by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard. While that would certainly make things easier, there are also numerous state and federal agencies that regulate medical waste. For instance,

  • The EPA is responsible for regulating most federal programs and laws concerning human health and the environment, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act  (EPCRA).
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has its own set of  guidelines for unused medication disposal.

  • The Department of Transportation has rules that govern the packaging and transportation of wastes.

Further, the Drug Enforcement Agency has specific regulations for the handling and disposing of controlled substances such as narcotics, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees radioactive waste management practices.

Add to that Alabama's and Tennessee's own state laws for handling and disposing of medical waste, and it's easy to see how critical it becomes for you to understand these laws so you may ensure compliancy at all times.

What can it cost you?

As a medical waste generator, your facility is responsible for properly packaging and labeling your wastes. Failure to do so can result in fines and penalties, many of which have recently increased.

In 2015, the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act adjusted penalty rates to not only accommodate inflation but to make the penalties more severe in order to discourage non-compliance.

Another area where fines are becoming even more stringent is with RCRA law. Fines that were once $37,500 per violation per day are now over $93,000 per violation per day. Making it even worse, these new rates can be applied to any and all violations that occurred from November 2, 2015 until today.

Assessing penalties for medical waste disposal violations is not an exact science. Violations are handled on a case by case basis and different factors are weighed to determine the final fine and or penalty.

You can't afford non compliance

As fines for improper medical waste disposal become more severe, doing business the wrong way and hoping for the best isn't feasible. Yet, federal and state regulations for compliance issues can be overwhelming for health care facilities. It is not an exaggeration to say that one uncorrected violation could easily cause a business to close.

If you're unsure or confused about any of these compliance laws, working with a medical waste disposal company that stays current with all state and federal regulations and knows how to properly handle medical waste is imperative. Your practice’s viability relies on it.

Download medical waste handling guide (ebook)

Topics: Medical Waste

Kevin Webber

Kevin Webber

Articles written by Kevin Webber who is one of the partners at TriHaz Solutions.

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