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Tattoo Shops and Waste Disposal: What Qualifies As Medical/Hazardous Waste?

Kevin Webber - Feb 19, 2019 11:49:16 AM

tattoo shop - medical waste 0808Medical waste can be a concern in places many people wouldn’t expect – Tattoo studios, for instance. Tattooing, piercing and other types of body art are not medical procedures, and the shops and studios that provide them are not healthcare facilities. However, they do share some similarities with healthcare settings in terms of the tools and materials of their trade, as well as the waste products generated as they work. So what qualifies as medical/hazardous waste in a tattoo shop and what do these artists need to know about handling regulated waste properly?

How Body Art Generates Medical Waste

Tattoo artists create their works on a very unique canvas – human skin. Their designs are drawn on that canvas by inserting ink into the deepest layers of the skin. This is, of course, done with tattoo needles, which must puncture the skin thousands of times during each tattoo session. This means that the tattooing process is one that involves contact with bodily fluids. Many tattoo studios also practice other forms of body art, most commonly piercings. This type of body art can also involve contact with bodily fluids.

Contact with blood and other bodily fluids creates certain health risks for both artists and clients. This includes the risk of transmitting blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis or HIV, for example. The good news is that, with proper safety, sanitation and waste disposal practices, risk of infection with these and other infections can be extremely low. To help ensure that risk-reducing practices are followed, these businesses are subject to many of the same safety and medical waste handling regulations that apply to medical care providers.

What Qualifies as Medical/Hazardous Waste in Tattoo Studios

The short answer to that question is that anything that comes into contact with bodily fluids – including blood, plasma, or mucus – that cannot be sterilized is considered regulated medical waste. For practitioners of body art, this means that the following commonly-used items are subject to medical/hazardous waste regulations and require special handling:

  • Tattoo needles

  • Piercing needles

  • Protective gloves

  • Protective covers, such as disposable barrier gowns, face masks etc.

  • Paper towels

  • Gauze/bandages

  • Cotton swabs

  • Leftover ointment

  • Ink caps

In general, any single-use products or materials that are used in any body art session are considered a biohazard (infectious or contaminated material) under federal and state regulations, and must be treated as medical waste.

Medical/Hazardous Waste Handling in Tattoo Shops: The Basics

Handling medical waste properly means using specialized containers to dispose of it, and tattoo/body art waste must be separated into various types of containers according to its category, as specified by federal and state regulated waste standards. For tattoo and/or piercing artists, this typically means having two types of waste containers available during sessions:

  • A sharps container – This is a heavy-duty, specially-marked container, usually red and marked with a biohazard symbol. It is designed to safeguard against the risk of injury with contaminated sharps, since these items can transmit infection should anyone be stuck, scratched or cut with them. Items that should be placed in sharps containers include tattoo needles, piercing needles, blades, lancets, razors, broken glass or any other item likely to pierce the skin.

  • A biohazard waste receptacle – This may be a trash can lined with a red, disposable plastic bag that is designed for biohazard disposal – leak-resistant, moisture resistant and puncture resistant. It may also be a reusable container, typically red and marked with a biohazard symbol. Reusable containers must be leak-proof on the sides and bottom and have a tight-fitting lid. Used gloves, gowns, face masks, paper towels, cotton swabs, and bandages are examples of contaminated items that belong in these containers. Basically, any disposable item that has potentially come in contact with bodily fluids, but does not need to be in a sharps container, belongs in this container.  

Once placed in the proper containers, regulatory compliance means making sure that waste is labeled and stored properly – in a secure area that is not accessible to the public – until it can be transported to a qualified waste treatment facility. Working with a solid medical waste company to manage your disposal needs can help clear up any questions you may have about managing waste in full compliance with all state and federal health and safety regulations.  

Download medical waste handling guide (ebook)

Topics: Tattoo Shops Waste Handling

Kevin Webber

Kevin Webber

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

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