Healthcare risk waste can infect hospital patients, healthcare workers and the general public. We take a look at some measures that can be taken to ensure the safe and environmentally sound management of this waste.

Graham du Randt, operations director at Compass Medical Waste Services (Compass), explains that healthcare risk waste management has significantly changed over the years. The development of legislation and more stringent regulations ensures the accountability of all parties involved in the management of healthcare risk waste, including the generators and service providers used for the containment, transportation and disposal of the waste.

Compass has been in the healthcare risk waste industry for over 23 years and removes approximately 24 000 tonnes of healthcare risk waste per annum.

“The healthcare risk waste is collected from healthcare risk waste generators in SABS-approved containers designed for the transportation of dangerous goods,” Du Randt explains. “A completed waste manifest accompanies the waste from the generator to final treatment and disposal to ensure traceability from cradle to grave.

“The infectious and sharps waste streams, which account for 95% of the total healthcare risk waste that we transport, is treated through our autoclave treatment technology.” (Autoclave treatment technology uses a process of heat and steam, under pressure, to treat the waste.)

“The balance of the healthcare risk waste, being anatomical and pharmaceutical waste, is sent to third party waste management facilities for incineration and landfill. A safe disposal certificate is issued to the generator as proof that their waste was safely treated and disposed of.”

Compass has a national footprint, with dedicated personnel and operates around the clock, every day of the year. “We offer value-added services for free and deal with clean-ups of illegally dumped and stored healthcare risk waste,” Du Randt says.

As part of the value-added services, the company offers an online electronic document management system to access invoices, statements, proof of deliveries, safe disposal certificates and reports. It also has expert sales executives and customer service teams to provide advice, as well as assistance, with queries.

Compass also keeps the environment in mind with its green treatment technology. “Sustainable solutions have become more prominent in reduce, recycle and reuse initiatives, resulting in a reduction in waste to landfill,” he adds.

But the industry isn’t without its difficulties. He explains that there are several challenges associated with healthcare risk waste disposal, including:

  • Incorrect waste segregation and containerisation by the generator that puts their staff and handlers of healthcare risk waste at risk;
  • Increased fuel, energy and wage costs which, in turn, increase the cost of providing a healthcare risk waste management service;
  • Ever-increasing regulations;
  • Corruption within the tender processes.

Du Randt adds that non-compliant waste generators and healthcare risk waste service providers have an impact on everyone: “The healthcare risk waste industry needs to put a spotlight on corrupt activities to ensure that perpetrators are ‘brought to book’ through the justice system.”

To combat the other challenges, Compass ensures that it continually improves its productivity and efficiencies to help control escalating costs. “We also identify and capitalise on environmental solutions which can reduce costs and improve operations, such as solar power or using waste as a resource.

“We offer training to healthcare facilities to educate staff on the risks associated with healthcare risk waste, the safe handling of the waste and the importance of waste stream segregation.”

Du Randt adds: “It is important to constantly educate people on the risks associated with healthcare risk waste as well as on the correct segregation and packaging.”

He adds that when dealing with healthcare risk waste, people should consider the following:

  • The type of healthcare risk waste they are dealing with and what their associated hazards are – that is, is it infectious or toxic?
  • What personal protective clothing and equipment should be worn by the staff handling this waste?
  • The packaging that should be used for its safe containment, transportation, storage, treatment and disposal.
  • How a waste manifest is to be completed to ensure the tracking of the healthcare risk waste from cradle to grave.
  • What pedigree the waste service provider has in order to manage the healthcare risk waste.
  • What the waste service provider needs to comply with in terms of licences and permits.
  • And what external audits have been conducted on the service provider.

“A new development within the industry is that healthcare risk waste generators are looking to treat their own waste on-site,” Du Randt points out. “This has its pros and cons. It is costly for the generator as onsite waste treatment requires a dedicated compliant area to operate any treatment technology, trained staff to manage the process and transportation of the treated waste to a permitted landfill.”

And with the ever-more onerous regulations, the healthcare risk waste generators will also have to ensure that they stay abreast of the constantly changing red tape. But this isn’t necessarily a negative point, as improvements in procedures can have a positive impact on the safety and well-being of hospital patients, healthcare workers and the general public, if healthcare risk waste is disposed of correctly.

Du Randt adds: “Ongoing improvements to industry legislation, continuous technological advancements and the drive to sustainable, environmentally friendly waste disposal practices will influence the future of healthcare risk waste.”

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