In 1991, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) declared the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to protect the more than 5 million healthcare workers in the healthcare industry. This was in a direct response to the danger these workers were being exposed to during the course of their daily operations, which caused them to come into contact with potentially hazardous medical waste. Specifically, they were concerned about bloodborne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis B being transmitted via unsterilized sharps.

Since then, numerous federal departments have developed their own set of standards and state laws have also been enacted to compliment or augment the original laws that govern the management of medical waste. But, the OSHA still represents the original playbook anyone creating medical waste in the United States must follow, in addition to their own state laws.
We wanted to look at the 3 main categories to explain clearly what the OSHA expects with regards to bloodborne pathogen and medical waste management, all directly related to protecting the healthcare workers.

Management of Sharps
According to the OSHA, sharp containers must be:

Labeled with the universal biohazard symbol
Include either the word “biohazard” or be color-coded red
Placed upright and never overfilled
Inspected routinely
Closable and closed immediately prior to removal, replacement, storage or transportation
Placed in a second container if leakage is possible
Easily accessible to employees and placed in the same location where sharps are used
Made of a material that is puncture and leak resistant
The disposal of sharps and all medical waste is typically governed by state law, but these are the basic OSHA regulations designed specifically to protect the workers.

Medical Waste Training
According to the OSHA, all employees who come into contact with medical waste must be trained – both initially, and annually. This extends to casual or part-time employees, and must be done on company time.

There is a shared responsibility to ensure staff are trained properly. For example, businesses who send their own employees to work at other facilities have the primary responsibility of ensuring their staff are properly trained. Site-specific training would be the responsibility of the business where the work is being conducted, but the general safety training is the responsibility of the main employer of the workers.
Employees can be trained by a licensed medical waste management and compliance company to ensure both compliance and worker safety.

Medical Waste Communication
The OSHA requires that workers receive clear communications about the materials they are handling, and the risks involved.

In addition, they require that:

Warning labels that include the universal biohazard symbol along with the word “biohazard” on each bag or container that holds regulated waste
Contaminated equipment must also be labeled with the biohazard symbol with the word “biohazard”, and also include a statement that declares which part of the equipment is contaminated
The warning labels themselves must have a fluorescent-orange background with symbols and letters in a contrasting color, to ensure they are easily noticed
Red bags or red containers do not require additional labeling
The OSHA has enacted these bloodborne pathogens management, training, and communication policies to ensure America’s healthcare workforce is able to perform their duties with confidence and minimal risk.

For more information on OSHA Compliance or other compliance needs, visit Enviromerica. We can ensure that you receive the best advice for optimizing your healthcare practice.

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