Everything you need to know about sharps containers

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The importance of having accessible sharps containers in your workplace is highly underrated. It is predicted as many as 18,500 healthcare workers experience sharps injuries every year and even more injuries go unreported. Approximately 15% of all sharps injuries are caused during disposal of sharp medical waste. How can we put a stop to this?

Sharps containers are a must have for many healthcare settings as they ensure the safe disposal of sharp medical waste. Genuine sharps containers greatly reduce the risk of your employees getting sharps injuries whilst disposing of the medical waste.

There is a wide range of sharps containers available on the market, to suit a wide range of businesses needs. This article will help you figure out which sharps container is the best fit for your business and all the things you need to consider prior to purchase.

What exactly is a sharp?

Sharp waste also known as just “sharps” are a kind of medical waste made of any material (plastic, metal or glass) that is sharp enough to puncture or lacerate the skin, causing injury.

Common sharps include:

  • Hypothermic needles and syringes
  • Broken or contaminated glass
  • Microscope slides
  • Disposable blades, scalpels and razors
  • Pipette tips

In addition to cutting a person’s skin, sharps pose an extra risk as they may be contaminated with a chemical or someone else’s bodily fluid which poses the risk of infection to blood-born diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Therefore, it is important we take sharps seriously.

Places that require a sharps container:

Common workplaces that require sharps container include:

  • Laboratories (Medical, academic and research).
  • Doctor’s offices.
  • Hospitals & Medical centres.
  • Vaccination centres, blood donation centres and needle exchanges
  • Ambulances
  • Aged care & Disability care settings
  • Pathology collection and dentists.
  • Sick bays at schools and workplaces.

What makes sharps bins compliant?

In order to for a healthcare business to retain it’s licence, all sharps bins on the premise must be compliant with government standards. In Australia, there are policies in place to ensure the safe disposal of sharps and medical waste. All sharps containers sold must comply with AS/NZS 4261:1994.

To be compliant, sharps must be made of rigid plastic, have a handle, tight-fitting lids, be leak-resistant and display proper warning labels.

Choosing the right size

Because sharps containers are used in so many different settings, there is a wide range of sharps container sizes available.

Hospitals and laboratories generally require larger containers because they produce more waste but smaller containers suffice sick bays and ambulances use smaller containers because of their space requirements.

  • Sharpsafe 0.3LThis portable sharps container is the smallest size available. It is designed for smaller sharps (slides, disposable blades and finger prick testing). This container is small enough to fit on a clinicians desk, first aid stations and all portable use.
  • Sharpsafe 1L1L containers can hold approximately 30 syringes and be found in small laboratories, aged care, dentists and other medical specialists and hospital wards.
  • Sharpsafe 2L2L containers are great for portable use and can hold up to 50 syringes. 2L containers are usually found in laboratory fume cupboards, small clinics and fit well in the compact ambulance space.
  • Sharpsafe 4L4L containers are often purchased for surgeries, public health settings (pop-up clinics, blood donation centres), this container also popular amongst diabetic patients who need to self-inject.
  • Sharpsafe 7LThe 7L bin is taller than its smaller counterparts and is ideal for clinics, hospital wards, academic and diagnostic laboratories.
  • Sharpsafe 24LThe largest sharps container in our range and has the largest opening lid. This container is designed for high-use settings including surgeries, research, diagnostic labs, immunisation programs and needle exchange stations.

Is it durable?

Quality sharps containers are made out of durable polypropylene which won’t shatter if dropped or melt in the heat. You want a container that won’t leak any fluids from the sharps waste.

Faux sharp containers may use softer and cheaper types of plastic and risk breaking easily. It is best to stick to durable polypropylene containers.

Be able to clearly see the contents of the sharps container

Sharps containers are not designed to be filled to the brim, in case sharp contents falls out of the top of the bin. Only fill the sharps bin to the marked “full line” and properly dispose of the bin and replace it with a new empty bin.

To prevent staff overfilling the bin, it is best to purchase bins with translucent lids or sides that allow you to see into the bin without opening it unnecessarily.

Does it have an effective closure mechanism?

To save on space in the sharps bin, some companies only dispose of the needles in the sharps bin and place the rest of the waste in a biohazard bin. Because of this need, genuine sharps containers have a disconnection port for all needle types to allow workers to safely detach needles without touching the needle themselves. Good sharps containers should also have internal safety flaps to prevent spillage of contaminated liquids onto the floor or on people.

The flaps may vary depending on the size of the container. Good sharps bins will have audible ‘clicks’ to hint the user that the bin has been properly closed.

Genuine sharps bins also have two different safe closure settings. Temporary closure for between uses and final closure to ensure no contents inside the bin is spilt on the way to disposal.

Ease of use

It pays to select a user-friendly sharps disposal container and place it in a highly visible place for all employees to see. Training is recommended for all employees to ensure they can safely dispose of items in the bin. Ensuring staff can use a sharps bin correctly is a very pro-active way to reduce sharps injuries.

What happens to sharps containers once they are full?

Because of their hazardous contents, local rubbish collectors are not responsible for collection of sharps and biohazard bins. You will need to contact a medical waste management expert who will come and safely transport your full bin away from your facility.

Sustainable options

The financial and environmental costs of sharps containers can add up overtime. If you are concerned about sustainability in your workplace, consider the following.

Some medical waste experts have a “mail back” program where they return a clean, empty sharps bin to replace your full one. This may depend on your usage and contractor.

Also, ensure your staff are not filling the sharps bin with incorrect sharps items like:

  • Gloves, alcohol wipes and paper towel
  • Medical tape and bandages.
  • Medication and its packaging.
  • Aerosols.
  • Everyday garbage
  • Hazardous chemicals or preservatives.

By ensuring your sharps bins are only filled with the correct waste, they should fill up more slowly and result in less waste removal.

Talk to a Westlab scientific consultant who can recommend you one of our wide range of sharps containers to best suit your needs. Contact us today.


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