One of the things we aim to do here on the Insights page is to educate our readers and subscribers. Initial are the Experts in Hygiene, and like most experts, we really love talking about our subject and sharing our passion for hygiene.We have found over the years that many business managers and owners are ill-informed around the legal requirements for disposing of sanitary waste. My husband, who manages a team of 6 (2 of whom are female) had never given the subject any thought until I visited his office and complained about the lack of feminine hygiene units in the toilet. I asked him where he thought his female colleagues disposed of their sanitary pads, and he had the grace to say that it had never occurred to him to wonder...
(If this sounds familiar to you as a female reader, take a look at our blog post: That Awkward question: How to ask your boss for FHU’s for some suggestions on how to solve this problem).
So, as the experts, we want to educate and remind business owners of your obligations to your female colleagues under the current South African legislation.
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 produce large volumes of sanitary waste, business managers should be asking themselves whether it is being disposed of in compliance to regulations laid out above, and what are the risks to the business if it is not disposed of correctly.
How should sanitary waste be disposed?
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 commercial sanitary waste must therefore follow the requirements for Healthcare Risk Waste (HRW).
What this means is that only domestic sanitary waste (that produced at home, for example) can go via municipal rubbish trucks to a municipal landfill. The volume of waste produced by an office or business has to be handled differently.
This is because sanitary waste is a blood product, and 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 and it is this fact that puts it into the Healthcare Risk Waste (HRW) category.
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 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 rainfall on untreated sanitary waste.
What are the implications of non-compliance?
So does your office or workplace comply with these regulations? In order to answer that question, you would need to look at how sanitary waste is currently handled on your premises.
If your workplace doesn’t provide sanitary bins for female employees, the only option left to female colleagues is to flush their tampons down the toilet, or to wrap their sanitary towels in toilet paper and dispose of them in the waste paper bin.
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 female colleagues are disposing of sanitary waste into the waste bins, this means that your daily cleaners - who have to empty and clean these bins - are at risk of cross-contamination and infection. Diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B can be prevalent in the sanitary waste receptacles.
It also means that your business is in violation of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, due to the fact that the cleaners have no option but to dispose of these dressings 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 sanitary waste, and whether they are a certified waste carrier. They should be able to provide you with a certificate of disposal to put your mind at ease that waste is being disposed of according to the regulations mentioned above.
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.