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Advice From the OSHA Expert

What you must know about sharps containers

by Dan Scungio • June 07, 2019


Dan Scungio
Dan, the Lab Safety Man

As a phlebotomist, you already know through your training the importance of needle safety devices and their proper disposal. You know that sharps containers are used to hold contaminated needles and other sharps, and that these containers must be closed and properly discarded when three-fourths full. But have you ever considered why there seems to be so many regulations in place about sharps containers?

Several of the guidelines have to do with your personal safety. OSHA states that disposable sharps containers must be replaced regularly so that they do not become overfilled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is more specific and says containers should not be filled more than three-fourths full, with many manufacturers placing a fill line as a visual indicator on their containers. One reason for this is so that during the disposal process, your risk of obtaining a needlestick is minimized. Should you suffer an accidental exposure from an object protruding from an overfilled sharps container, the source would be unknown. Without the ability to test the source patient, you may have to undergo treatment as if exposure to HIV or hepatitis occurred. This treatment can be painful and personal, and should be avoided, if possible.

The expense of waste removal should also be considered when using sharps containers. In some areas, it can cost eight to ten times more to dispose of sharps containers than it does to dispose of other regulated medical waste (biohazardous trash). Often, the cost of disposal is based on weight. That's one reason why you should never place items in a sharps container that do not belong there, such as tourniquets, gauze, and bandage wrappers. Also, since used tourniquets, gauze and wrappers can be thrown away in regular trash in most areas, doing so helps the environment by reducing the size of biohazard landfills.
One last thing to consider is the use of sharps containers by phlebotomists or other healthcare personnel who travel offsite. OSHA tells us that those sharps containers need to be closed while in transit and supported in such a way to prevent tipping. These containers must also be replaced when filled to 2/3 of their capacity.

The next time you change out your sharps container, remember that the regulations created surrounding its use were designed to protect the environment, your patients, and you!

1. OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(A)(2)(iii).  Accessed 6/3/19.
2. OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(1)(iv)(B).  Accessed 6/3/19.

You can contact Dan Scungio, aka "Dan the Lab Safety Man" at [email protected].



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Dan Scungio Dan the Lab Safety Man needlestick OSHA sharps container

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