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Reduce Hospital Environmental Pollution Insurance Costs

Updated on November 27, 2009
Control hospital pollution risks
Control hospital pollution risks

Hospitals generate a large amount of potentially infectious, biohazardous, and hazardous chemical wastes in the form of human tissue, contaminated needles and sharps, soiled linens and dressings, fluid waste from chemotherapeutic or dialysis treatments, and contaminated instruments.   Other forms of environmental pollution can occur from discharge of hospital wastes into the public sewage system, and air pollution due to discharges from incinerators and laboratories.   This article will guide you through some of the basic steps necessary for building an environmental pollution control program for your hospital.

Implement a medical waste handling program that meets the requirements of OSHA. Medical waste is defined as disposables that freely drip or flake blood, fluid blood, human tissue, and bodily waste from a person known to have a communicable disease. It also includes sharps (needles, syringes, blades, scalpels), and disposables that are contaminated with blood but don’t drip or flake.

  • Properly handle medical wastes. Train employees to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (such as safety glasses, masks, gloves, gowns) whenever they anticipate they may handle or be exposed to medical wastes.
  • Properly contain medical wastes. Always separate medical wastes from non-hazardous trash at its point of origin. If this is not possible, then treat all waste as hazardous and contain it together.
  • Properly store medical wastes. Store non-sharps medical wastes in red biohazard bags. The containers are often placed under counters with open drop holes so employees can drop the waste through into the containers without creating further splash or contamination spread. Or place the bags inside pedal-operated waste containers so employees don’t need to touch the bag or container with their hands. Store sharps medical waste in puncture-resistant containers specially designed to hold sharps. Train employees to recognize that red bags or containers always mean DANGER. Store bagged or contained medical wastes in a locked or secure location where access is limited.

Red Biowaste bag
Red Biowaste bag
  • Properly dispose of medical wastes. Some hospitals have their own incinerators or autoclaves to destroy or decontaminate medical waste before final disposal. Ensure your incinerators meet local, state, and federal regulations for operations. Agencies that may regulate incinerator activities include local air boards, public health agencies, and fire districts. Typically you must have a permit from at least one agency to operate an incinerator, so make sure you meet all permit requirements.
  • Even after medical waste is incinerated or autoclaved, it must be removed from your premises and disposed of in an approved hazardous waste disposal facility. Use only waste removal contractors that are licensed for such activities. Also, audit the final disposal site to ensure it is fully licensed and permitted to accept medical waste. Complete the audit before you authorized transport of your waste. Even if it is removed from your facility, the waste still belongs to you and is your responsibility if it causes an environmental hazard.

  • Dispose of bodily wastes and fluids (including urine, vomit, excrement, and blood) by carefully pouring it into a toilet or drain connected to a sanitary sewer system serviced by a municipal treatment facility. You cannot, however, discharge toxic materials such as mercury, barium, radioactive materials, or highly corrosive waste into the sewer system. Hire an environmental specialist to help you navigate the complex regulations governing disposal of such materials.

Consider purchasing Environmental Impairment Liability insurance to protect your hospital against pollution claims and lawsuits.

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