Written by Josh Glover
06 Dec 2023

Is All Sharps Waste Hazardous?

The short answer is no, but do you know what determines whether or not sharps waste is hazardous?

Understanding which items are classed as sharps and distinguishing between hazardous and non-hazardous sharps waste will help you ensure compliance – it’s also critical in a healthcare setting where the improper disposal of items like needles and syringes can pose significant risks to both healthcare workers and the public.

Let’s begin by defining sharps waste…


TOPICS WE WILL COVER:

1 / What are sharps?

2 / Hazardous vs non-hazardous sharps waste.

3 / Sharps waste regulations and resources.

4 / Correct methods for sharps disposal.

5 / Choosing the right sharps containers.

6 / Ensure safe and compliant sharps waste management.

 

What Are Sharps?

 

Sharps are defined as any sharp item with the potential to cut or puncture skin. Sharps can include needles, lancets, syringes, broken lab ampoules, etc.

The Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 07-01 points out that sharps wastes are not considered hazardous by themselves, but once used, many sharps wastes generated in a healthcare setting will be hazardous.

So let’s take a look at what sets them apart…


 

Hazardous vs Non-Hazardous Sharps Waste

 

How is sharps waste classified and what factors determine whether sharps waste is considered hazardous or non-hazardous?

 

Hazardous Sharps Waste

 

Any sharp object that has come into contact with potentially contaminated or infected blood, body fluids, or a substance that can carry bacterial or viral dangers is considered hazardous.

The HTM 07-01 lists the following types of sharps waste as being hazardous:

  • Cytotoxic/cytostatic sharps.
  • Infectious medicinally contaminated sharps.
  • Used, non medicinally contaminated sharps.

 

Non-Hazardous Sharps Waste

 

Both uncontaminated sharps and medicinally contaminated (other than cytotoxic/cytostatic) sharps are considered non-hazardous.

It’s worth noting that even non-hazardous sharps should be handled with caution as they can still cause needlestick injuries.

Also, you should always report a needlestick injury whether or not the sharp has been used.

 

 

Sharps Waste Regulations and Resources

 

The healthcare waste industry is highly regulated and when it comes to sharps waste and sharps disposal, the Department of Health outlines the different types of sharps waste that can arise from healthcare settings and how to dispose of them safely and correctly.

Three critical resources for sharps waste guidance are:

 

These resources cover various aspects of sharps and sharps waste………

 

Royal College of Nursing’s Sharps Safety Guidance

This document provides information on preventing sharps injuries in healthcare settings.

It covers key topics, including an introduction to sharps injuries, relevant laws and regulations, practical implementation steps, recommended actions for employers and healthcare workers, as well as references and additional resources for further information.

This resource aims to enhance awareness and safety measures related to sharps injuries in healthcare environments.

 

Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013

This document offers essential insights on compliance with regulations.

It outlines the responsibilities and obligations for both employers and employees within healthcare settings, focusing on the safe handling and disposal of sharp instruments. This guidance emphasizes the importance of risk assessment, the use of safety-engineered devices, proper training, and incident reporting.

By adhering to this guidance, employers and employees can ensure a safer healthcare environment while reducing the risk of sharps injuries.

 

Health Technical Memorandum 07-01: Safe and sustainable management of healthcare waste

This document specifically addresses sharps waste management and highlights key considerations for healthcare facilities.

It provides information on the safe disposal of sharps waste, emphasising the importance of proper containment and segregation. The document outlines guidelines for the use of suitable containers, ensuring secure storage, and appropriate labelling.

By following this guidance, healthcare facilities can maintain a safe, sustainable, and efficient sharps waste management system, reducing the risk of injuries and contamination.

 

Now that the technical guidance documents are out of the way, here are some of the sharps-related resources we’ve created.

In line with the Sharpsmart mission of making healthcare safer, we’ve also created a number of resources that provide guidance on managing sharps waste and preventing needlestick injuries.

These include:


 

Correct Methods for Sharps Disposal

 

Knowing which types of sharps go into which waste streams is the first step towards compliant sharps disposal. Colour-coded sharps bins are used to ensure correct segregation of the various types of sharps waste, they are as follows:

  • Yellow lid: Sharps contaminated by a medicine other than cytotoxic and/or cytostatic components – may also include vials, ampoules, or medicine bottles.
  • Purple lid: Sharps that have been contaminated with cytotoxic and/or cytostatic medicines.
  • Orange lid: Sharps that haven’t been contaminated with a medicinal product.

 

Chapter 5 of the Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 07-01 outlines the colour-coding and labelling procedures as well as other aspects of the technical approach to healthcare waste management.

Once you have the first step towards compliant sharps disposal covered, the next step is to consider the type of sharps containers you’re using…


 

Choosing the Right Sharps Containers

 

With Net Zero targets and milestones getting closer by the day, NHS facilities are doing everything they can to cut carbon emissions and reduce reliance on single-use plastics.

But this begs the question, which containers should you use to dispose of sharps waste?

Using the waste hierarchy as a guide would point you in the direction of reusable sharps containers, and you’d be right to be considering them – there can be no arguing the proven sustainability benefits of reusable sharps bins.

The thing is though, you need to be sure they’re designed to prioritise safety, some questions worth asking when seeking out a sustainable and compliant reusable include:

  • Is it designed to prevent overfilling?
  • Is it protected against punctures and leaks?
  • Does it restrict hand access?
  • Is it tamper-proof?
  • Is it compliant with BS EN ISO 23907-2:2019?

 

There are certain design requirements that all containers must meet, but that doesn’t mean all containers can be considered equals.

When you're looking to switch to reusables it’s best to ensure they’re ISO-compliant in line with NHS standards and designed to protect healthcare workers and patients from both hazardous and non-hazardous sharps waste.


 

Ensure Safe and Compliant Sharps Waste Management

 

As you’re aware, practising safe sharps waste management is critical for healthcare workers, patients, and the public.

Whether you’re looking to introduce new sharps containers or just want guidance on the sharps waste regulations and staff training, we’re here to help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

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Josh Glover

Josh Glover

As a natural storyteller driven by curiosity, Josh aims to educate and engage through informative and thought-provoking content; working towards a safer and more sustainable healthcare system.