Ask any healthcare worker what piece of equipment they need to do their job safely and some will say personal protective equipment (PPE), some medication, others patients’ notes, disinfectants; the list is endless, but very few will say they need healthcare risk waste containers even though they are essential to the provision of safe patient care. Poor healthcare risk waste management poses both health and ergonomic risks to healthcare workers and patients.
Akter (2000:2) reviewed available healthcare risk waste management practices relating to their nature, impact and management techniques as either practiced or recommended by various countries including developing countries. The information was obtained through a literature review, online searches and personal communications.
The results showed that it is taken for granted that everyone knows how to use healthcare risk waste containers appropriately and realise the importance of good hand hygiene and surface disinfection protocols when dealing with waste containers. Research has shown there is an insufficient awareness of healthcare risk waste by individuals, as well as no safety measures in place when dealing with waste disposal.
Herewith the golden rules when handling healthcare risk waste containers:
- Always wash your hands after using any healthcare risk waste container.
- Do not leave healthcare risk waste containers open.
- Do not place healthcare risk waste containers on surfaces in patient areas, such as on patients’ tray tables, side tables or lockers.
- Do not place healthcare risk waste containers in the ward duty station.
- Include healthcare risk waste containers on the wards’ daily cleaning schedule.
- Healthcare risk waste containers’ exterior surfaces should be cleaned with 250ppm chlorine solution or wiped with an alcohol solution.
- Never use reusable healthcare risk waste containers in isolation wards.
- Store used and unused healthcare risk waste containers separately.
Healthcare risk waste companies providing reusable containers to their customers must also ensure that their containers are washed and clean upon visual inspection. Service providers should use a detergent with a chlorine disinfectant. Furthermore, they should swab a sample of their containers to ensure that they are clean but, more importantly, to test the efficacy of the washing process. ONLY reusable containers should be washed and returned to the customer. All other containers should be destroyed during the treatment process.
In hospitals and clinics all surfaces should be considered dangerous as they harbour the potential to carry organisms that may be harmful to staff, patients and visitors. Always be mindful that healthcare risk waste containers contain infectious waste that is harmful. So follow the ‘golden rules’ listed above and reduce your risk.
- Akter, N. (January 2000). Environmental Engineering Program. Asian Institute of Technology, Khlongluang, Phathumthani, Thailand.
- Automatic I.D. News. 1995. Medical waste reduced through automated tracking, Automatic I.D. News, Vol. 11, Issue 6, p18.
- Dinardi, S.R. 1997. The Occupational Environment-Its Evaluation and Control. Virginia: American Industrial Hygiene Association.
- Fischer, D., Kristiannsen, T., & Nkosi, S. 2003. Sustainable Management of Health Care Risk Waste in Gauteng. Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, and Land Affairs. South Africa.
- Gauteng Provincial Government. 2003a. Gauteng Health Care Waste Management Regulations. Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, and Land Affairs. South Africa
- Gauteng Provincial Government. 2003b. Guidelines on Sustainable Health Care Waste Management in Gauteng. Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, and Land Affairs. South Africa.