Assisted Living, News

Housekeeping for senior living part 2: Management of sharps

In Part 1 of this series we covered OSHA’s requirements for cleaning and disinfecting in a senior living facility. Part 2 will discuss guidelines that administrators should follow when training their housekeeping staff in sharps management, taken from Disaster Planning, Infection Control, and OSHA Compliance: A Toolkit for Senior Living, written by Karen T. Stratoti, RN, BSN, LNHA, CALA.

In the senior living environment, many of the residents come in with their own ways of handling their needles and syringes. It is not uncommon to find medical waste sharps in empty tin coffee cans, used needles placed in large baggies, and used needles and syringes stored in laundry detergent containers. Many times, residents do not come into the facility with a proper disposal system. Facility administrators must make sure that the residents get the proper container for needle and syringe disposal, and that residents are given an inservice on how to use these containers to avoid staff getting a needle stick injury.

How should sharps containers be handled?

Each sharps container must either be labeled with the universal biohazard symbol and the word biohazard, or be color-coded red. Sharps containers must be maintained upright throughout use, replaced routinely, and not be allowed to overfill. Also, the containers must be:

  • Closed immediately prior to removal or replacement, to prevent spillage or protrusion of contents during handling, storage, transport, or shipping;
  • Placed in a secondary container if leakage is possible. The second container must be:
  • Closable,
  • Constructed to contain all contents and prevent leakage during handling, storage, transport, or shipping; and
  • Labeled or color-coded according to the standard.
  • Reusable containers must not be opened, emptied, or cleaned manually or in any other manner that would expose employees to the risk of percutaneous injury.
  • Upon closure, duct tape may be used to secure the lid of a sharps container, as long as the tape does not serve as the lid itself.

Where should sharps containers be located?

Sharps containers must be easily accessible to employees and located as close as feasible to the immediate area where sharps are used (e.g., resident care areas, resident apartments). If a mobile cart is used in these areas, an alternative would be to lock the sharps container in the cart.

What type of container should be purchased to dispose of sharps?

Sharps containers are made from a variety of products, from cardboard to plastic. As long as they meet the definition of a sharps container (i.e., containers must be closable, puncture resistant, leak proof on sides and bottom, and labeled or color-coded), OSHA would consider them to be of an acceptable composition.