Sharps instruments undoubtedly play a vital role in carrying out a variety of procedures throughout the UK. However for anyone who uses or handles them regularly, they come with a number of accompanying risks and the potential for injury, either through accidental cutting or pricking of the skin.
According to the Health and Safety Executive’s report titled “Eye of the Needle”, there are an estimated 100,000 needlestick injuries every year in the UK. Any injury received via accidental scratches, punctuations of the skin or poor handling, carry a number of risks.
However these risks can vary in severity and classification, which in turn effects how you store and dispose of the sharps waste. As a result, it’s imperative that the various procedures for handling and disposing of sharps materials are understood, managed, and in compliance with the various legislation.
What is the definition of clinical waste?
Under the provision of the EPA 90 including the Duty of Care, Clinical Waste is defined as controlled waste, and it has a number of different definitions:
- Any waste that consists wholly or partly of human or animal tissue, blood or other body fluids, excretions, drugs or other pharmaceutical products, swabs or dressings, syringes, needles or other sharp instruments. Unless rendered safe, it may prove hazardous to any person coming into contact with it. Typically however this form of waste isn’t deemed infectious.
- Any other waste arising from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical or similar practice, investigation, treatment, care, teaching or research, or the collection of blood for transfusion, being waste which may cause infection to any person coming into contact with it (e.g. HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C).
It’s important to note that as an organisation, VR Sani-Co only dispose of sharps waste in accordance with the first definition, namely in circumstances where there isn’t an immediate risk of infection (e.g. schools, offices etc.).
For anyone in the medical profession seeking further guidance in relation to definition 2, you can find additional information in the Health and Safety Executive (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013.
What are Sharps?
The term “sharps” refers to anything that can be used to punctuate or lacerate the skin; namely items like syringes, scalpels, blades lancets and hypodermic needles.
While sharps are often used throughout the medical sector (which would fall under the previously mentioned Health and Safety Executive Regulations), they can also be used in a variety of settings, including a school first aid room, tattoo parlor, beauticians (eyebrow tattooing), medical rooms at work, first aid tents at events, and even in a bakers when handling sharps equipment for cutting bread.
How to dispose of sharps?
Used sharps should be immediately placed in a sharps disposal container. Sharps containers are typically made from puncture-resistant plastic with leak-resistant sides and bottom; providing an element of safety so needles and syringes don’t easily pierce the sides.
Sharps containers are used to safely store materials until they can be disposed of safely. Items like syringes and hypodermic needles can easily be inserted in the top of the container, minimising the risk of injury or accident to those who use them.
The containers can be found in numerous locations, from offices to international airports, and are generally available through medical supply companies, health care providers and online.
For their disposal, you may also need to contact a dedicated sharps disposal company who can collect your full sharps containers, and replace them as and when required.
What do the different colour Sharps containers mean?
The correct separation of healthcare waste is vital to ensure that waste is stored, transported and ultimately disposed of in a manner that adheres to the clinical waste regulations.
The purpose of the colour coding system is to provide an easily recognisable and uniformed system throughout the UK, avoiding confusion and minimising risk.
For sharps materials that don’t pose an immediate risk of infection:
- Orange containers are used for sharps or needles that are completely expelled of any prescription only medicines, but may contain bodily fluids
- Yellow containers are for sharps or needles that still contain prescription only medicines.
Anyone who produces clinical waste is legally required to segregate, classify and describe the type of waste being stored.
How full should a sharps container be before emptying?
A sharps container should be three quarters full before emptying. If you wait until it’s completely full, dangerous items like needles and syringes can stick out of the top of the container, providing an unnecessary risk to anyone handling its disposal.
When are sharps containers collected?
Your sharps containers can be collected on a set day, as and when you need them. We will provide you with the necessary sharps containers, and replace them after each collection.
Who is at risk from Sharps injuries?
While anyone who comes into contact with a used sharp instrument is at risk, it’s not surprising that given the number of procedures and injections administered, nurses are often the most exposed to the various hazards.
However while the majority of injuries do occur in a medical setting, sharps injuries can also occur in community settings such as health centre’s, offices, schools and tattoo parlor’s.
How are sharps disposed of?
Sharps are either disposed of via an autoclave (a pressure chamber used to sterilise equipment through high-pressure saturated steam), or less commonly through incineration.
While it’s vital to adhere to the various legal requirements, it’s important to note that everyone can play an active role in the prevention of sharps injuries. Everyone has a duty to ensure that they protect not only themselves, but also others around them by storing and disposing of sharps equipment safely.
If you don’t work in the healthcare industry and you’re looking for more information on sharps disposal, please feel free to get in touch. We’d be more than happy to help.
Please check out our other services pages to find out more about the services we offer and contact us for more details.