/ IN THIS BLOG
A veterinarian’s office must follow best practices in the removal and disposal of biohazardous medical waste carefully, just as human medical care facilities and hospitals. Believe it or not, the same rules regarding this waste stream apply to veterinarian facilities as they do hospitals, urgent care clinics, or outpatient surgical centers for humans. Unfortunately, some veterinarians do not fully comply with the federal and state regulations surrounding that waste disposal.
If you work in a veterinarian's office, it is crucial that you comply with every law dealing with biohazardous materials.
01 / Biohazardous Waste Disposal and Veterinarians
While doctors' offices and hospitals must diligently follow biohazardous medical waste regulations and have for decades, some veterinarian facilities and practitioners have shown a lack of vigilance in this respect.
In a veterinary environment, biohazardous waste is found in as many of the types of waste produced in the care of humans. For example:
Sharps – sharps such as needles and scalpels, slides, lancets and so forth can carry and transmit infectious materials in animal care scenarios just as easily as in human healthcare situations.
Solid waste – veterinarians use many of the same supplies as human doctors, such as bandages, linens, towels, table draping, swabs, and surgical gauze that can also contain infected blood or body fluids from an animal.
Tissue or pathological waste – veterinary offices perform tissue biopsies, surgeries, and amputations, just as human physicians do, and such waste must be properly disposed of to prevent infection risks.
Review the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regarding hazardous waste. If your veterinary facility or practice produces biohazardous waste, you must comply with the Standards Applicable to Generators of Hazardous Waste found in Part 262 of Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations or CFR.
It doesn’t matter if biohazardous waste comes from humans or animals – it must be disposed of safely and properly. Know the federal and state regulations for veterinary practices. You might be surprised to learn just how many agencies are involved in your animal waste! They include:
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
Department of Transportation (DOT)
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers additional information regarding both federal and state regulatory guidance for animal wastes. Be aware that OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standards are just as applicable to veterinary facilities as they are for hospitals and doctor’s offices. Follow the rules to avoid fines and penalties for non-compliance.
02 / Consequences of Improper Hazardous Waste Removal
A veterinarian is subject to the same punitive measures as a human medical facility if a violation is discovered. This can certainly mean fines or even harsher measures if you've already been warned and haven't fixed the issue. In particularly egregious cases, a vet could even conceivably be shut down. When financial margins are quite slim, as is common in a vet's office, fines are especially detrimental.
Also be aware of any federal or state requirements needed to apply for a biohazard (hazardous) waste permit if materials are transported off-site for destruction or disposal. Guidelines will also apply based on your state agencies regarding how long you can store certain types of waste on-site prior to disposal or destruction.
Ensure safety to any and all healthcare professionals, ancillary staff, and the general public regarding exposure to biohazardous waste in your facility. For this, education and adequate training is essential.
03 / Education Is Key to Safe Medical Waste Removal
The only way to ensure your veterinary office consistently complies with the law is by educating all staff members, whether they are directly involved in animal care or not. This also includes any volunteers that help out at your facility. NONE of your employees should have to ask what biohazardous waste is. That in itself is a big problem.
A biohazardous material is any solid waste generated in the examination or treatment of anything biological in nature, which means humans and animals. Make education a priority in your office to ensure employees understand the protocol that's expected of them.
04 / Key Points to Remember when Dealing with Biohazardous Waste
Biohazardous medical waste needs to be stored, shipped, and treated properly in order to maintain compliance with federal and state regulations. Doing so helps prevent fines and also preserves the safety of anyone who encounters that waste.
Keep these key points in mind:
Anything contaminated by blood is regulated medical waste and it needs to go in a red bag - never the ‘regular’ trash.
Any needles or syringes used to administer animal vaccinations or to draw blood need to be put in a compliant and proper sharps bin before it is ‘red-bagged’ for off-site transportation or destruction.
Ensure that anything designated for regulated medical waste disposal goes through the proper treatment process. Anything contaminated with blood or body fluids, including your sharps bins, must typically undergo destruction through a medical waste autoclave. However, for specific subsets of regulated medical waste, such as pathological waste, medical waste autoclaves will not suffice. You will need to ensure treatment in a medical incinerator instead.
Reach out to an experienced biohazardous waste management company within the waste disposal industry if you're confused or unsure about what constitutes proper protocol. Whatever you pay in the cost of waste disposal is likely to be much cheaper than the fines you'd have to pay for violations.
For more information about the medical waste disposal industry and how it applies to veterinarians' offices, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services today. With over three decades of experience in the field, we service veterinary and human service providers throughout the country.