February 12, 2016

The Evolution of Sharps Container Disposal Regulations

Ann Marie Pettis, director of infection prevention at the University of Rochester Medical Center, shared a few memories in her article in Greenhealth Magazine called: “Evolving sharps management.” She compares decades old practices with newer and more innovative ways to responsibly dispose of sharp objects in various clinical settings. Organizational priorities for Pettis include healthcare worker safety and disease transmission prevention.

A Focus on Sharps Injury Prevention

Between policy and persuasion, 16 years ago, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was introduced and helped cut needlestick injuries by almost one third in non-surgical settings. Despite human factors engineered into new sharps container designs to prevent tipping and spilling of contents, the CDC estimates hundreds of thousands of costly needlestick and sharps-related injuries still occur every year to healthcare workers in hospital settings. She explains that if there is a needlestick injury, it typically occurs while recapping the sharp, or when the sharp is left after use for someone else to clean up.

Medical Professional with Elderly Patient Disposing of Needlestick in Sharps Container

The Introduction of Reusable Sharps Containers

Of the more than 2 million sharps containers of all types used in U.S. hospitals, more than one third are reusable and healthcare providers have many container choices. Pettis prefers containers with FDA 510k market clearance that go beyond the required low-level disinfection containers and promote healthcare worker safety with an easy-to-see fill status. Pettis’ article responds to a June 2015, a poster session at the Association for Professional in Infection Control (APIC) annual conference that stirred a lot of opinions in facilities of all sizes about the potential risk of transmission of clostridium difficile infections from reusable sharps containers.

Are Reusable Sharps Containers Right For My Organization?

Pettis and many of her peers and industry experts concur that hospitals should perform due diligence before considering disposable sharps containers. She suggests reviewing methodologies that claim to link transmission of clostridium difficile infections could from reusable sharps containers. Correlation does not equal causation and a laboratory study would be necessary to determine actual cause of transmission.

Benefits of Reusable Sharps Containers

To help meet the safety, disease transmission prevention and sustainability goals at the hospital where Pettis works, they use reusable sharps containers. Pettis and multiple third-party healthcare organizations agree that reusable sharps containers are the best solution for the marketplace today.
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