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November 2018

The need for readily available sharps disposal units

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

About two weeks ago my husband did something horrible to his back. I took him to our local GP as he couldn’t drive himself and she gave him a shot of something wonderful that released the spasm. She then threw the used needle into a sealed, puncture-proof and clearly marked sharps disposal unit. Which is the way that all needles, syringes, scalpels, and anything that could cut or puncture the skin should be disposed of, according to the Regulations Relating to Health Care Waste Management in Health Establishments (National Health Care Act, 2003, Act no 61 of 2003).

These regulations are supported by good practice guidelines for the Management of Health Care Waste from the Health Professions Council (HPCSA) which state that it is the “responsibility of all health care practitioners to have a health care waste management system in place, or to have access to such a system”. They go on to say that all medical sharps should be considered hazardous healthcare waste, whether or not they are contaminated with infectious agents, and that a sharps disposal container “should not puncture easily, should be stable and durable to withstand a fall onto a hard surface”, should have a lid that is "capable of being tightly secured” and should be clearly labelled as containing sharps, either with the word “SHARPS” or by a symbol recognised by the facility. The primary purpose of these regulations and guidelines is to decrease the risk of injury to personnel and limit the risk of spreading infection due to improper handling of healthcare waste materials.

I find it very encouraging that our healthcare professionals are regulated like this, but what about needles that get used outside of doctors’ rooms?  Ideally, these too should be disposed of correctly in a designated sharps container, but sadly this is often not the case. In conversation with one of our Quality Assurance Managers the other day, she happened to mention that all Initial colleagues who service our Feminine Hygiene units have to wear puncture-resistant safety gloves to prevent the risk of needlestick injuries (NSI’s). I’ll be honest - I was surprised. We’ve heard about some pretty weird and (not) wonderful things being disposed of in our FHU’s (just ask our Expert Dianne Luck) but the risk posed by needles and syringes going into our FHU’s was not something I’d given much thought to before now.

My colleague went on to say that this is a real problem in some of the gyms we service. More and more people are taking injectable steroids, performance enhancers, vitamins and even hormones and if they are female, they dispose of their used needles or syringes in the FHU’s.  In the men’s bathroom, where FHU’s obviously aren’t available, they throw them in the paper disposal bin (equally risky for our service colleagues).

When I started to think about it, there were a number of scenarios that came to mind in which one may need to dispose of a needle or a syringe, and in which a sharps disposal container would be unlikely to be available, the most obvious of these being diabetics who have to inject insulin on a regular basis.

Diabetes is conservatively estimated to occur in 4 million South Africans, and all type 1 - and up to 40% of type 2 - diabetic patients require insulin therapy, creating a huge volume of medical waste daily in the form of used needles and syringes.  An article in the South African Medical Journal states that “insulin-dependent diabetic patients are not educated on safe sharps disposal methods, leading to unsafe disposal of needles. Appropriate education on the correct disposal of sharps should be an integral part of their diabetic counselling.”

Being educated on the correct method for safe sharps disposal is one thing, being able to practically implement this when you are at work, at the gym, out shopping or eating at a restaurant is quite another.  I for one have certainly never seen a sharps disposal container in a shopping mall bathroom or at the gym. In fact, this exact question is frequently raised on the forum page of the www.diabetes.co.uk website.  Here is an example:

“Hi all, I was just wondering how do we go about disposing of needles? I inject several times a day - especially when eating, I need to do so to keep me alive - and already having to carry around insulin pens, needles, blood tester, blood tester strips, emergency food for hypos, it becomes a bit much to then carry a sharps bin around with you - my handbag is massive. ….My main issue is knowing what to do in the workplace, help!”

The forum goes on to discuss various ways of clipping needles and creating a “home-made” sharps unit for the home, but ultimately the problem remains that when one is out and about, the options are limited.

Why is the correct disposal of needles and syringes so important?

Used needles, syringes, scalpels etc. constitute a biomedical hazard because incorrect disposal could result in the exposure of unsuspecting parties - such as garbage removers, garbage pickers and anyone else handling domestic waste (like our Initial technicians)  - to entirely preventable risks like needlestick injuries (NSI’s). NSI’s put workers at risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B or C and other blood-borne diseases.

In addition, healthcare waste that enters the domestic waste stream will end up being disposed of in municipal landfill sites, where waste is either landfilled or buried. This may result in the contamination of groundwater and the spread of E Coli.  Healthcare waste which is disposed of via the domestic waste stream may not even make it to a municipal landfill. An article last week in the Potchefstroom Herald reported that “syringes, needles, gloves and bloody medical drips were just some of the items in the rubbish lying next to a bin in Auto Avenue on Tuesday morning.” A distressed employee is reported to have said “This is dangerous as the street kids are always searching for leftover food in the dustbins. Who knows what kind of diseases they could pick up like this.”

We’d like to suggest that providing units for the safe and hygienic disposal of needles should be something that every big gym, shopping mall, office block or restaurant chain considers doing, for the wellbeing and peace of mind of both customers and employees. Initial’s sharps disposal bins are impact and puncture resistant, as well as being seepage proof, to guard against the risk of NSI’s and cross-contamination, and this service can be tailor-made to the volume of sharps waste your site generates.

Contact Initial today for more information on how we can tailor make our medical waste services for your business, and a free quote.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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