In a previous blog post, we looked at whether your company has to provide sanitary bins for female employees, and we concluded that whilst the law does not actually specify that employers have to provide sanitary bins, it does specify how sanitary waste must be disposed of in the following legislation:
- The Occupational Health & Safety Act, 85 of 1993
- The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 59 of 2008.
- The National Regulations on Health Care Risk Waste (NEMWA, act 59 of 2008)
Because businesses are voluminous producers of sanitary waste, they should be asking themselves where their waste lands up, and whether it is being disposed of in compliance to regulations laid out in the above mentioned pieces of legislation.
How should sanitary waste be disposed?
So what do these pieces of legislation require in terms of disposal?
The Occupational Health & Safety Act, 85 of 1993 states that commercial or industrial volumes of sanitary waste may not enter the general municipal waste stream and therefore commercial sanitary waste must follow the requirements for healthcare risk waste.
What this means is that only domestic sanitary waste can go via municipal rubbish trucks to a municipal landfills. The volume of waste produced by an office or business has to be handled differently.
Because sanitary waste is a blood product, it may contain bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis B that could lead to serious health and environmental risks if not disposed of properly. It is therefore classified as Healthcare Risk Waste (HRW).
The National Regulations on Health Care Risk Waste (NEMWA, act 59 of 2008) require that HRW must be autoclaved and then shredded, or pre-treated using electro-thermal deactivation to inert status. This means that the sanitary waste has been rendered harmless before it is disposed of at a hazardous landfill site, by a licensed waste disposal contractor.
If sanitary waste is dumped at uncertified landfills, or in an untreated state, it poses a significant risk to workers on those sites. There is also the very real risk of groundwater contamination should rain fall on untreated sanitary waste.
How can I ensure that my office is compliant, and what are the implications of non-compliance?
Having read the above, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether your office or workplace complies with these regulations. In order to answer that question, you would need to look at how sanitary waste is currently handled in your organisation.
If your workplace doesn’t provide sanitary bins for female employees, the only options left open to female colleagues are to flush their tampons down the toilet, or to wrap up their sanitary towels and dispose of them in the bin.
This means that your cleaners - who have to empty and clean these waste bins - are at risk of cross contamination and infection, and your business is violation of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, because how are the cleaners going to dispose of these dressings other than by dumping them into the general waste, which is prohibited.
And even if your business does provide sanitary bins for employees, it’s worth asking your service provider how they dispose of the sanitary waste, and whether they are a certified waste carrier. They should be able to provide you with certificate of disposal to put your mind at ease that waste is being disposed of according to the regulations for HRW mentioned above.
Whilst there is no legal limitation on flushing that volume of tampons down the toilet, common sense tells us that this is definitely a sub-optimal solution. Tampons are a major cause of plumbing hassles, as they cause blockages which usually require the services of a plumber to resolve. They also land up on beaches, creating a horrible pollution problem.
If you are concerned about compliance in your business, contact Initial for a free survey. Initial is a registered Waste Carrier and will provide you with a Certificate of disposal. Our feminine hygiene service is a proactive and multi-layered approach to the management of sanitary waste.
Wondering where else you might need some assistance in optimising your office hygiene? Take a look at out Hygiene Hotspot map to discover the hygiene hotspots in your office and how to keep them clean.