While those who work in the medical field are the most likely to encounter medical waste, the reality is that workers in just about any setting may encounter medical waste from time to time. Therefore, it is essential for all employees to know how to properly handle medical waste if such as situation were to arise. While all employers should have standard operating procedures in place for reporting and handling medical waste, here are a few safety tips that should always be followed.
Treat Waste as Hazardous
If you should happen upon a red bag, a red sharps container or anything else that is marked with the biohazard symbol, you should treat it as though it contains hazardous material. The same is true with any sharps, blood or materials that appear to have blood in them. Before covering or handling the material, you should notify a supervisor. If this requires leaving the area to find a supervisor, barricade or otherwise mark the area as much as possible in order to prevent others from stumbling upon the waste.
Wear Personal Protective Equipment
Before handling medical waste, be sure to put on the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Wear gloves to protect your hands. While rubber gloves will help to protect you from pathogens, leather gloves may be necessary if you are handling sharps. In this way, you will be protected against possible punctures. Similarly, you may need to wear 6-inch lace-up boots with steel toes and puncture-resistant soles in order to protect your feet and ankles. If there is the potential to be exposed to infectious agents, you should cover your arms and other skin surfaces in order to keep them protected. Safety glasses and a hard hat may also be necessary to protect your head and face from potential splashes. Other types of special equipment, such as face shields, respirators, boot covers, dust masks and impervious clothing. may also be necessary to keep you protected.
Use the Proper Cleaning Methods
Often, cleaning medical waste involves doing more than simply picking up an item and disposing of it. Rather, it may require cleaning the area in order to remove all pathogens. In this case, you should use some sort of equipment to clean the waste rather than cleaning it directly with your hands. Whether you are using equipment or not, you should wear gloves to minimize your chances of getting cut or being exposed to pathogens. While cleaning, never reach into an area where you cannot see and remain constantly aware of sharps or other hazardous materials that may be in the area.
Dispose of PPE Properly
Once you have disposed of the waste, you also need to take steps to dispose of the PPE that you used while removing it. All clothing that came in contact with the waste should be removed as soon as possible, taking care to avoid contact with exposed skin. Remove the gloves last so your hands are not coming in direct contact with the other clothing items that you remove. Once the items have been removed, place them in closable, leak proof bags or containers.