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Understanding Sharps and Their Risk

Kevin Webber - Nov 1, 2019, 8:30:00 AM

Because of the extremely serious personal, legal, and financial risks associated with them, reducing the incidences of needlesticks, cuts, and punctures from loose sharps is a top priority in medical waste disposal.

understanding-sharps-risk_381284512In addition to federal OSHA program guidelines, Alabama has its own rules and regulations for the management of medical waste disposal, including those specific to sharps.

Medical Waste Disposal and Sharps

Understanding the dangers of irresponsible or improper sharps management is a crucial step in keeping everyone at your facility (not just those who handle them) safe. Sharps are a real challenge in the medical waste disposal process. One needle stick can cause illness or death as well as substantial fines from the EPA or other government agencies. Making it harder still are the ever-changing regulations that vary from state to state or even county to county.

Most facilities address the sharps challenge by erring on the side of caution, but this approach can also increase the cost of medical waste disposal. From segregation to collection, good sharps management and practices can help you reduce health and other related risks.

What are Sharps

The simple definition of a sharp is “any object that can cut or pierce the skin.” In the medical world, there’s the added risk of potential contamination by bloodborne microorganisms, a combination that can quickly spread disease.

Sharps examples include:

  • Hollow needles used for injecting medications under the skin.
  • Lancets, or fingerstick” devices, which are short, double-edged blades used to draw blood for testing, as in a diabetes blood test prick.
  • Syringes, a plunger type object used to inject medication into or draw fluid from the body. It may have a needle attached.
  • Infusion sets, tubing systems with a needle that’s used to deliver medications into the body.
  • Epi and insulin pens, both of which are auto injectors pre-filled with medication; the EpiPen contains epinephrine in case of anaphylactic shock and the insulin pen is for diabetics.
  • Connection needles and/or sets are needles connected to a tube and used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. They are generally used for at-home hemodialysis patients.
  • Scalpels and other blades.
  • Scissors used to cut flesh or dressings.

In addition, unbroken glass that may or may not be contaminated and sharp plastic may also need special medical waste disposal handling.

Risks and Effects of Sharps Injuries

Sharps injuries, also called percutaneous injuries, occur when a needle, blade, or other medical object as defined above penetrates a person’s skin.

Contaminated sharps can transmit more than 20 diseases including hepatitis B and C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Even if a person escapes infection, a sharps injury can cause worry and stress to the affected person. Transmission of infection depends on a number of factors, including the injured person’s immune system.

People most at risk for sharps injuries are people who work in and around the health and social care industries. While workers who handle sharps as part of their job may be at higher risk, others may inadvertently be put at risk when sharps are not properly stored or disposed. The highest risk of infection comes from hollow-bore needle sharps injuries.

Because your facility is solely responsible for proper medical waste disposal, you may also face the financial risks of fines and penalties as well as reputational damage.

What to Do After a Sharps Injury

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of articles on preventing needlestick and sharps injuries. If someone is accidently stuck by a used needle or other sharp, they should immediately:

  • Wash the exposed area with soap and water or a skin disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer.
  • Schedule an appointment with their doctor or medical facility to get tested for any infections.

Improper medical waste disposal of sharps places anyone who comes into contact with them in serious danger. It’s important that all sharps users properly dispose of their sharps to keep themselves and those around them safe and healthy:

  • Immediately place used sharps into a rigid, leak-proof and puncture resistant container that is clearly labeled and sealed to prevent content loss during handling.
  • Decontaminate reusable containers after each use.
  • Properly dispose of single-use containers.

Sharps Disposal You Can Trust

Clinical administrators and medical office managers are tasked with one of the most important responsibilities: properly disposing of sharps and other hazardous medical waste. An experienced medical waste disposal company can be a valuable partner in maintaining compliance as you also manage your facility’s day-to-day operations, handle HR and customer issues, and purchase supplies and equipment. 

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Topics: Medical Waste

Kevin Webber

Kevin Webber

Kevin Webber is a partner at TriHaz Solutions and actively involved in the day-to-day business from a strategic and operational standpoint. He has a successful background in business/investment management and entrepreneurship, including recognition by Inc. Magazine’s 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies.

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