Biohazardous waste poses a significant danger to professionals tasked with its collection, treatment, and disposal. One of the common misconceptions about biohazard waste management personnel is that they are a select group responsible for pickup and transporting dangerous materials to their final destination.
In reality, anyone who works in an industry that involves contact with blood or bodily fluids forms part of a logistical chain that requires safe handling, treatment, disposal, and the use of personal protective clothing and equipment. From scientists conducting laboratory research to a local tattoo artist, everyday people have a duty to secure these materials, so they do not infect another person.
Those who are, therefore, biohazard waste management professionals by default must wear industry-certified personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure health and safety. If you are unsure whether you are a biohazard waste specialist, it’s imperative that you understand what is considered biohazardous waste, the three basic categories, and the safety procedures necessary for your health and safety.
What is Considered Biohazardous Waste?
Biohazardous waste typically includes potentially infectious materials and substances that pose a health and safety threat if people come in contact. Sometimes called biomedical waste, the health care industry produces much of what is considered biohazardous waste. However, sectors that engage the human body, such as tattoo parlors, also generate significant biohazard infectious waste.
This class of high-risk materials is often thought of as interchangeable with “hazardous waste.” While chemicals, radioactive products, and wide-ranging contaminants present a danger to humans, animals, and the environment, items that require biohazard waste management fall into a unique and highly regulated class. Factors that differentiate biohazards from hazardous waste include point of origin and potentially harmful outcomes. Biohazardous materials are those that directly threaten human health and safety.
Experts generally distinguish three sub-categories known as solid biohazard waste, liquid biohazard waste, and sharp biohazardous waste. Each type is based on its physical form, associated risk, storage protocols, and proper disposal of biohazard waste best practices.
Solid Biohazardous Waste
Research and development organizations generate a significant amount of solid biohazardous waste. These are considered non-sharp objects that have been contaminated by human and animal specimens, such as blood, tissue, and fluids, among others.
Examples of Solid Biohazardous Waste
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Plastic Culture Plates
- Non-Breakable Specimen Vials
- Contaminated Towels
- Bench Paper
- Non-Breakable Blood Storage Vials
- Plastic Pipettes
Solid Biohazard Waste Collection & Disposal
In laboratories, it may be appropriate to initially collect solid biohazards in racks lined with bags that meet regulatory guidelines. These biohazards must be transferred and stored in leak-proof products with an autoclave bag thick enough to prevent punctures. Such containers call for a secure lid and easily identifiable biohazard labeling. Solid biohazards are typically sterilized and rendered harmless after being placed in the autoclave system.
Liquid Biohazardous Waste
Liquid biohazards are precisely what the name suggests. They are non-solids that pose as significant health and safety risk to the human population. But unlike solids, liquid biohazardous waste requires heightened due diligence.
Examples of Liquid Biohazardous Waste
- Quantities of Human or Animal Blood
- Bodily Fluids Such as Urine Samples
- Contaminated Culture Materials
- Liquid Biohazard Treatment & Disposal
Perhaps the most common method for the treatment and disposal of liquid biohazardous waste is done onsite. It involves chemically treating these materials with commercial-grade disinfectants that usually include bleach and disposing of them in an approved laboratory sink. During the process, professionals are typically required to wear PPE, such as gloves, a lab coat, shoe coverings, faceguards, and other splash-resistant protective clothing.
Sharp Biohazardous Waste
What distinguishes sharp biohazardous waste from other forms is the potential risk of these objects penetrating the skin and spreading a contagion. Although biohazard medical waste comprises a high percentage of this type, other industries also generate substantial volumes of biohazard infectious waste.
Examples of Sharp Biohazardous Waste
- Tattoo Needles
- Contaminated Surgical Tools
- Disposable Syringes
- Glass or Breakable Microscope Slides
- Glass or Breakable Vials & Tubes
- Sharp Biohazard Collection & Disposal
Sharp biohazardous waste materials are typically collected in secure containers and are marked with biohazard labeling. Such products are designed specifically for the collection of sharp biohazards, and substitute containers generally violate health and safety regulations.
In sharp material collection, bins are required to remain closed and emptied before reaching 75 percent of their capacity. Should a sharp biohazard become lodged inside, steps must be taken to empty the container promptly. The secure storage containers must also be leak-proof and have a restrictive lid to prevent easy access.
Health and safety guidelines require sharp biohazard containers to be taped shut before being shipped for disposal. The container is then placed inside an approved biohazard bag, followed by a Stericycle box for shipment.
How To Protect Biohazard Waste Management Workers
Workers in the biohazard waste removal, transportation, and disposal industries routinely handle items contaminated with dangers and deadly pathogens. These essential workers are responsible for ensuring the safe disposal of materials that could cause an epidemic, particularly in highly populated areas. Risks associated with biohazard needle disposal rank among the most common because they are prone to accidents when proper procedures are not followed, or workers fail to wear adequate PPE.
That being said, organizations tasked with medical biohazard waste disposal, among others, must have a ready supply of biohazard waste PPE available at all times. Once adorned with necessary protective clothing, these are protocols biohazard waste management workers should consider.
- Rigorously follow all company and regulator procedures in the performance biohazard management
- Plan ahead for potential impediments and obstacles that could compromise biohazard storage integrity
- Remain focused on the task at hand when handling biohazardous waste materials
- Scrutinize all PPE before putting them on
- Promptly follow decontamination procedures and replace PPE if compromised
- Inspect all biohazard containers for potential damage, leaks, or improper labeling
- Immediately report any compromised containers and decline to handle them until secured
- Use only approved sanitization materials
- Do not substitute sanitization products
- Use industry approved solutions to clean equipment when necessary
- Hazardous materials must be segregated and only stored with compatible materials
Workers are urged to wash and sanitize themselves before and after putting on PPE. It’s also essentials that biohazard waste removal teams maintain a clean working environment free of debris and slippery floors. Accidents in a biohazardous waste environment are as likely to result in bodily injury as life-threaten infection. That’s largely why biohazard personnel are expected to wear PPE that meets or exceeds health and safety regulations at all times.
How Biohazard Infectious Waste is Transported
As the chain of biohazardous waste custody moves to the transportation phase, drivers, as well as handlers, take on safety responsibilities. The Department of Transportation (DOT) published guidelines that regulate the duties of shippers to package these materials properly. This makes shippers another class of biohazardous waste management professionals, and they would be wise to take precautions. The DOT sets out packing regulations that include the following.
- Non-bulk Packaging : Biohazardous medical waste must be securely shipped in rigid containers. These containers must be marked in such a fashion that makes them easily identified as a biohazard. Those packages with sharps must be puncture and leak-proof in accordance with DOT guidelines.
- Large Packaging : Bulk shipments of biohazardous waste must additionally meet vibration standards in accordance with DOT regulations. Proof of regulatory compliance must be demonstrated, and liquid biohazards must be secured by rigid containers in the inner packaging.
Additional requirements call for absorbent materials to be present in sufficient quantity when transporting liquid biohazardous waste. Containers must be designed, tested, and certified to resist punctures, and leaks, among other risk factors. The critical takeaway from the stringent DOT regulations is that shippers, receivers, and professional drivers all for part of biohazardous waste management logistics.
Are You a Biohazard Waste Management Worker by Default?
The risks associated with working with biohazards are typically well-known to frontlines workers such as research scientists. But tattoo artists, clinical technicians, and those in the trucking industry may not enjoy the heightened awareness that they are part of a larger plan to collect, treat, and dispose of these sometimes infectious materials.
Although wide-reaching organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OSHA, DOT, and many others, publish handling guidelines, human error is largely responsible for workplace injuries and fatalities. That’s why wearing PPE that meets or exceeds industry standards remains a worker’s best defense against being compromised. These are industry-leading PPE products distributed by International Enviroguard that everyday people who come in contact with biohazards would be wise to consider.
- ChemSplash: This line protects against splashing infectious liquids and meets testing standards under ISO 6350 and EN 368 for penetration and repellency. The Chem Splash line is widely regarded as comfortably fitting and provides agility to work in a variety of industries.
- MicroGuard: This line delivers high splash deterrence as a coverall. It also comes with attached head protection and passes ASTM F1670 testing for blood penetrations.
- Accessories: International Enviroguard also produces lines of shoe coverings that protect against inadvertently tracking spilled contaminates. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the PPE company has been rapidly creating protective masks that are also well-suited for the biohazardous waste sector.
For more information about industry-leading PPE or to replenish a stockpile of disposable protective wear, contact International Enviroguard.