It may not be sexy, but its importance cannot be underestimated: the safety of regulated medical waste created as part of the care of our patients. We are well versed on how to properly contain this waste in appropriately labeled, leak proof containers and sharps boxes but what happens next may remain a mystery to most.

Engaging front line staff in decisions about product selection and placement for sharps containers and location for disposal of other regulated medical waste not only helps comply with OSHA mandates but will help increase the likelihood of the correct, safe methods of disposal being used.

Failure to dispose properly at the source drastically increases the risk to those handling the waste downstream. Hospitals, medical offices and other providers also need to be aware about how this waste is processed to ensure that others, downstream, are not put at risk once the waste leaves the facility.

Whether it’s treated onsite or sent off for third party processing, knowing that appropriate treatment has occurred helps us fulfill our need to protect ourselves, our staff and ultimately the waste stream from unnecessary exposure. Understanding the waste stream from generation and final disposition helps make for a safer environment.

Safety needs to be considered at every step of the process. Having clear algorithms and documented training helps ensure consistency in practices. Frequent retraining and audits can help identify any concerns with disposal that could create risks – whether physical or financial.

Everyone who is involved in the process in your organization from the initial user to the staff collecting and processing the waste also need to be well aware of post exposure management in the event of a needle-stick or other body fluid exposure.

Knowing that post exposure prophylaxis is available and also where and how to seek it out with trained counselors in an appropriate time frame is crucial to decreasing risks as low as possible in the event that an exposure occurs.

Follow up to exposure events also needs to include a review of why the incident occurs – whether due to human error or failure of an engineering control or disposal error to help prevent future occurrence. Help is available for all of these steps. Just reach out to your vendors to explore the available options.