Medical waste compliance mistakes can cost you big

The violations are different, but the first line always reads the same – “Dear ‘Person’s Name’, The Department of Natural Resources has reason to believe ‘Company Name’ is in violation of Wisconsin’s hazardous waste laws.” Fortunately, by avoiding some common compliance issues, you can avoid even receiving a letter like this.

Perhaps the worst part of receiving such a letter isn’t the first line, but one of the last. That’s where the DNR informs you of the possible penalties you face – “penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation.

The good news is that receiving this letter is entirely preventable. While the following list isn’t exhaustive, staying clear of the these 12 mistakes can help ensure you remain compliant with the DNR and Department of Transportation’s rules for proper medical waste disposal.

Common Compliance Mistakes for Medical Waste Disposal

1. Improper packaging for transportation – Infectious waste must be transported in rigid containers that have been approved by the Department of Transportation. These containers are leak-proof, spill-proof, puncture resistant and reusable.

This rule is most often violated when people transport sharps. Years ago, people used to dispose of sharps in empty milk jugs or laundry detergent containers.  Nowadays, using these containers for sharps disposal is strictly prohibited, as needles sticking out pose a serious threat to transportation personnel.

2. Improper manifestation of waste destruction – The process of storing and destroying hazardous waste must be fully transparent to the DNR. They require a manifest proving the material was shipped and destroyed, in a process called “cradle to grave” manifestation.

When you use a medical waste disposal company, they will give you a copy of a manifest showing when the material was picked up, where it was transported, and later verifying that it has been properly destroyed.

3. Failing to categorize waste – When storing waste, it must be properly categorized as hazardous or nonhazardous waste. Labels delineating a container’s categorization must be visible on all sides. The label must also include the date of when the container entered the storage facility area.

4. Transporting large amounts of waste yourself – You always need a permit to transport 50 pounds or more of medical waste, regardless of if it’s correctly packaged in approved DOT containers.

Unfortunately, applying for a permit is expensive and requires hours of training classes. That’s why most companies outsource their medical waste disposal. MERI, for example, only charges $85 (plus processing fees) to collect medical waste directly from your site.

5. Sewering hazardous waste – Sewering hazardous waste is never permitted.  Regardless of if you sewer hazardous material on purpose or by accident, the DNR will cite you for doing so. However, if you dump hazardous waste on purpose, you could also face jail time.

6. Failing to conduct inspections of hazardous waste – An employee must inspect your hazardous waste containers every week to ensure they are uncompromised. The inspector must fill out a document fully disclosing the inspection, signed with their initials and the date.

Many medical facilities already charge an employee with inspecting other equipment, like fire extinguishers and eye washers. We find it’s easiest to simply incorporate the hazardous waste storage inspection into this routine.

7. Discarding waste in the wrong container – Each kind of waste must be categorized separately. For example, standard trash cannot mix with medical waste.

The general rule is that the higher risk an infectious waste product poses to humans, the more rigid of a container you need. The CFR 49 Code of Federal Regulations can tell you exactly what container you need for each kind of waste. Here’s a general breakdown:

* Sharps must be discarded and stored in a sharps container
* Anything dripable, pourable, or can flake off after drying must be stored in a Red Bag waste bag
* Pills must be disposed of in a sealed plastic container with the pharmaceutical waste

8. Inadequate employee training – Any and all employees who contact, dispense or are involved with the delivery of hazardous waste must be trained on proper disposal. While not every employee needs to go through the entire eight-hour training session, everyone must be familiar with the basic proper disposal and transportation rules.

Most classes will train employees on the specific aspects of CFR 49 – 172.704 that pertain to their individual responsibilities. Every training session must be fully documented.

9. Lack of emergency contingency plans – Any facility with potentially hazardous waste must write an emergency response plan detailing the procedures in the event of an emergency, such as a chemical spill.

10. Improper labeling of storage areas – Multiple kinds of waste may be stored in the same room, but signs on the doors must signify every type of waste inside.

11. Failing to diagram proper waste disposal procedures – Every facility that stores medical waste must have a diagram that tells employees where to discard waste (often categorized by color).

12. Failing to label light bulbs as “universal waste” – The definition for universal waste is as follows: “A category of waste materials designated as hazardous waste, but containing materials that are very common.” This includes light bulbs as well as certain batteries, pesticides and thermostats.

Here’s the “Universal Waste Management Standards” document, which lists every product that is considered universal waste in Wisconsin.

Receiving a notification of investigation for failing to comply with governmental regulations regarding medical waste disposal can be a scary and costly experience. Avoid these dozen common compliance mistakes to ensure you don’t receive a letter of your own.

Learn how to easily track, properly handle, and affordably dispose your biohazard or infectious waste.