December 11, 2023

The Importance of Training in Proper Medical Waste Disposal

Medical waste generation and its disposal is a daily activity for healthcare practitioners. Although most healthcare waste is general, non-hazardous waste, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that 15% is considered to be materials that may be infectious, toxic, and radioactive. Before healthcare staff interact with medical waste, they should receive training about the risks associated with it and strategies for safely handling and disposing of it. Proper disposal of medical waste helps reduce risk in both clinical spaces and surrounding communities, but the growth of at-home care creates a new complication for the industry.

Understanding Medical Waste and Training Requirements

The definition of regulated medical waste (RMW) varies by state, but it generally includes soft waste such as blood-saturated gauze and bandages, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) and sharps waste (comprising items like contaminated glass, needles, blades, staples, wires, and the exposed ends of dental wires). Pharmaceutical waste is any discarded drug (including, e.g., dietary supplements, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, homeopathic drugs, compounded drugs, and investigational drugs). It is important to understand your state's requirements and to make sure you have the appropriate training in place.

Some states may require both orientation and annual refresher training, while others may not specify requirements. In addition to your state requirements, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stipulates the necessity of orientation and annual refresher training for staff members handling sharps and potentially infectious materials. This training should encompass strategies to prevent accidental injuries and reduce the risk of transmitting bloodborne pathogens.

Furthermore, other agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOT) require training for employees responsible for packaging medical waste and preparing it for transportation. Training should be provided before the employee's job commencement and repeated every three years.

Comprehensive Medical Waste Training for a Safer Healthcare Environment

Comprehensive medical waste management training can help create a safer healthcare environment. Recent insights and statistics from Stericycle's 2023 Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report (HWSTR) highlight the importance of medical waste management training. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Healthcare Practitioners (HCPs) indicate they do not receive refresher or updated training on medical waste management. Surprisingly, within healthcare facilities, 70% of surveyed HCPs claim to have a strong understanding of how their organization disposes of medical waste.

The report's findings also show the need to prioritize and address waste management in at-home care environments. Eighty-six percent of the healthcare professionals surveyed lack strong confidence in patients' knowledge regarding proper disposal methods, and 87% believe that patients lack the necessary training and resources. This is likely exacerbated by the changing types of waste generated as at-home acute care becomes more common.

Additionally, 93% of consumers surveyed agree that patients require more information and resources to effectively handle medical or pharmaceutical waste in at-home care settings, while 92% believe that healthcare workers need additional training to maintain safe working conditions in these same environments.

The findings underscores the importance of comprehensive education on medical waste disposal, revealing a disconnect between administrators' beliefs about HCP training and the reality of training in healthcare settings. For example, while 86% of administrators surveyed believe that HCPs have received sufficient training in pharmaceutical waste management, only 72% of surveyed HCPs concur that they have received adequate training in this area.

Partner with a Medical Waste Industry Leader

Healthcare organizations should consider working with a trusted medical waste management partner. HCPs not only need resources to cope more effectively with the stress resulting from understaffing but also support with correctly disposing of regulated medical waste and pharmaceutical waste. These enhancements can alleviate the workload of healthcare workers and reduce the potential for stress.

Stericycle can be your strategic waste management partner in training, working with you to deliver up-to-date educational tools and resources. Stericycle offers Steri-Safe® Compliance Training Solutions, which provides healthcare staff with an assortment of online trainings related to OSHA and HIPAA compliance, medical waste disposal, and Department of Transportation Hazardous Materials Training as related to the products we offer. Our online tools also record when the training is completed, ensuring that organizations can be confident that their staff has received the required education.

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