Bio-hazardous waste and proper waste handling practices
The Ebola scare was a major wake-up call for many professionals around the world and has catalysed a greater focus on infection control policies and procedures.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities generate clinical waste that could potentially also be biohazardous waste. Examples of clinical waste include swabs or dressings, syringes, needles or other sharp instruments. Premises that generate clinical and potentially bio-hazardous waste include alternative medical practices such as acupuncturists, physiotherapists and podiatrists, and residential and nursing homes. Anything that involves human tissue or solutions containing free-flowing blood or animal tissue or carcasses used in research are all considered as clinical waste. With outbreaks like Ebola and MERS looming in regions around Australia, those in the healthcare profession need to take a more proactive approach to ensuring waste produced at the facilities they work in is properly disposed of. More often than not, those in healthcare rely on their waste management providers to ‘do the right thing’. In order to prevent outbreaks of potential fatal diseases, healthcare professionals (who have the expertise) should work hand-in-hand with their waste management providers to have a preventative waste disposal strategy.
The recent Ebola scare has taught us a few lessons surrounding safe disposal of clinical waste. Most pertinent of all would be to ensure proper handling processes and hauling contracts that meet compliance standards. Proper disposal of waste constitutes more than bagging, dumping and collecting. The process of sanitising waste for sterile disposal far more complex than the general public would imagine it to be. In a situation where there may be healthcare-associated infections (HAI), waste is specially classified as ‘infectious hazardous waste’ and will need to be specially treated and handled by authorised waste disposal contractors. The best approach to ensure safe disposal would be to contact a regulated medical waste hauler and ask what their position is on such bio-hazardous waste. On site in hospitals or related healthcare facilities and on an organisational level, senior management within such healthcare facilities should plan and develop appropriate waste management strategies and instil Key Performance Indicators. These KPIs should also be revisited quarterly, in light of global developments in terms of HAl threats and risks.
Provision of information, education and training on HAI need to be kept up to date and consistent. Incorporating a feedback loop is essential to the management strategy for healthcare professionals to ensure their own safety in light of potential outbreaks stemming from clinical waste.
Waste segregation should also be practised, and healthcare facilities, especially hospitals should seek to implement recycling programs for materials where possible, thus cutting down on waste volume and also reducing the risk of accidental contamination of segregated waste.
At Australian Waste & Recycling Expo, the seminar on ‘Bio-hazardous and clinical waste. Ready or not?’ will have Deakin University Lecturer Trevor Thornton shedding light on the code of practice in Australia regarding healthcare waste management in a seminar on bio-hazardous waste. Understanding what the code states is core to ensuring one meets these standards. Healthcare facility managers and staff need to update themselves to be ready for pathogenic threats like Ebola.
From a practical perspective, Registered Nurse Ros Morgan at the Dandenong Intensive Care Unit, will share how she has been in consultation with various waste management providers to create an education package for nursing staff – developing best practice and procedures consistent with hospital protocol. Her experience sets the benchmark for cross-organisational cooperation in the initiative to prevent and combat HAIs.
Other speakers include Bradley Keam from Baxter Healthcare who will focus on supplier responsibility for post-product use packaging. Other speakers include Peter Guerin and Miranda Ransome.
Key decision makers in healthcare need to focus on establishing a proper hazardous waste handling strategy.
Tips on drafting a hazardous waste management plan:
- Outline to the management committee the principles of responsible waste management;
- Outline the commitment needed in terms of resource allocation;
- Highlight the accountabilities and responsibilities of staff, contractors and management;
- Define the various categories of waste stream;
- In-depth detail of appropriate disposal procedures;
- Provide ongoing education for all staff, including management; and
- Maintain consistent communication with waste handling providers for updates on potential HAIs.
Lastly, a waste management audit should be conducted before developing or updating any waste management plan. An audit will help determine the current performance in terms of safety, efficiency, environmental impact, regulatory compliance standards, and finally and perhaps most importantly, cost.