As a medical waste generator, you are responsible and liable for the transportation, treatment, and disposal of hazardous and regulated medical waste. It can be a complicated process, and there should be no gaps in your processes and procedures in order to keep things running smoothly and maintain compliance. Even if you are a small quantity generator, you still have to comply or face potential penalties.
What is Compliance Training?
Maintaining compliance means more than simply using the right medical waste services partner to properly handle, treat, and dispose of your medical waste. Your employees need proper training to ensure that they can protect themselves, your patients, and the environment.
How do they do this? By complying with the guidelines and regulations that are set forth by the agencies that govern working conditions and the handling of hazardous materials, including medical waste.
On the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is involved in the regulation of medical waste disposal since improper disposal can have negative consequences for both public and environmental health. On a local level, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is the state agency that administers all major federal environmental laws, including solid and hazardous waste laws. The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste Management (TDEC) is that state’s regulatory agency.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides data privacy and security provisions to safeguard patient’s medical records and other personal health information (PHI). The privacy and security rules are enforced by the U.S Department of Health & Human Service Office for Civil Rights.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is part of the United States Department of Labor and was created to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. Alabama’s job safety and health program is operated by OSHA, while Tennessee is one of 26 states that have an OSHA-approved state plan — Tennessee OSHA (TOSHA).
Finally, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was established in 1967 by an Act of Congress to ensure a safe, efficient, and modern transportation system. DOT regulations governing medical waste apply to packaging as well as transportation.
Why Does Your Office Need Compliance Training?
The simple answer to this question is that you need training to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and guidelines. Let’s face it. Compliance can be a challenge for small or midsize medical practices because they may not have a full-time employee dedicated to managing compliance.
However, even the smallest medical office must maintain compliance and many of the most common compliance errors can be avoided with a training program. Not only can compliance training help you avoid mistakes that could result in costly fines, proper training will increase the efficiency of your medical office. Plus, an added benefit is a positive effect on employee morale, since an investment is being made to educate employees and protect their health and well-being. A culture of safety is a positive culture.
Fallout From No Compliance Training
Non-compliance can lead to heavy fines and penalties; these are just a few examples of what could happen without proper training for your medical practice.
EPA and DOT Violations
Healthcare facilities must pay close attention to proper container management, including using the correct type of containers and properly labeling them. Department of Transportation (DOT) violations also include failure to keep accurate manifests detailing each waste shipment and vehicle operation and maintenance requirements requirements for your medical waste disposal partner.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised the maximum civil penalties for certain EPA or environmental law violations to discourage noncompliance. Prior to the increase, the maximum penalty for a RCRA violation was $37,500 per violation, per day. With the increase, the maximum penalty is now $70,117 per violation, per day. A medical waste violation can be as simple as improper waste segregation or a single error in labeling.
Remember, your processes and procedures are only as effective as the employees who execute them. Ignorance is not a defense. That same year, a hospital system in Pennsylvania was fined $451,000 for the disposal of untreated medical waste in a landfill. They were not intentionally disposing of medical waste illegally; the problem was due to improper employee training.
Fines Due to HIPAA Violations
Most medical facilities ensure their medical staff, administrators and managers receive proper training; however, they may forget that the law requires any employee or representative with proximity to PHI to be properly trained. This includes part-time employees, interns, and volunteers.
One of the most recent, high-profile examples of what could happen without compliance training comes with news of the penalty levied against The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights issued its fourth largest HIPAA violation penalty and ordered MD Anderson to pay $4.3 million in penalties. There were three data breaches in 2012 and 2013 that involved the HIPAA violations. The violations involved portable electronic devices that were not encrypted to protect patient information. Specifically, a doctor’s laptop was stolen from his home and two USB devices were lost. One of the USB devices was lost by a summer intern on her way home from work, which begs the question: Did the intern receive proper compliance training?
A key area in OSHA training is the Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) standard, which defines safety and training requirements for exposure to bloodborne pathogens. BBP training is required for any employee who might come into contact with such pathogens. In most medical practices, that includes administration and even part-time staff. Failure to properly train your staff could pose a serious risk to their health as well as put your patients at risk. BBP violations carry hefty fines, such as the $24,750 fine imposed against a medical clinic in Connecticut for failure to use personal protective equipment and for using improper exposure-control practices.
The second most common reason for OSHA citations across every industry, including the medical field, is hazardous communication violations. More than 4,000 citations were issued in 2017 alone. If your medical facility handles any hazardous chemicals, you are required to not only train all employees who have relevant job responsibilities, but also draft a written hazardous communication program to guide your operations. You must also provide safety data sheets for each type of hazardous chemical your practice handles. All hazardous chemical containers must be clearly labeled.
These are just a few of the scenarios that can happen without proper compliance training. Reduce your risk and avoid violations and fines by making sure that your medical office employees are properly trained.