Sharps Container Disposal Regulations

There are many different types of waste management, all with their own regulations, and for smaller businesses it can be a real challenge to keep track of them all. Due to the associated risks, the disposal of “sharps” is arguably the most crucial of all.  

Whether you’re talking about medical instruments such as scalpels and syringes, or general sharp objects such as broken glass or old tools, sharps can create a significant risk of causing injury to users as well as anyone who comes into contact with sharps waste further along the line. But not only do sharps pose a risk of injury, they can also cause infection or harm as some implements may be contaminated with medication or bodily fluids. 

No matter what sector you’re in or the size of your organisation, you must dispose of sharps safely and the same duty of care applies whether you’re a large hospital, a veterinary surgery, a tattooist or an aesthetic clinic.  

Sharps disposal legislation provides the guidelines that allow organisations to know what to do with such potentially dangerous waste. So, when it comes to how to dispose of sharps, what exactly do the regulations say?  

Let’s take a look. 

What are the regulations for sharps container disposal? 

Two key pieces of regulation for the industry are:  

These outline safe practice for the use and disposal of sharps, including the need to avoid their use or using safer sharps where practical.  

For safe disposal, clearly marked and secure containers for sharps waste must be placed close to the area where they are being used – allowing prompt disposal and negating the need to carry used sharps any distance. This may include installing bins within each clinical room or on trolleys, allowing sharps to be placed within the container at the point of use, immediately. Regulations also require you to place instructions for safe disposal in these areas while organisations must review their policies and procedures at suitable intervals to ensure these conditions are being met. 

Sharps Container Disposal  

All sharps waste must be placed safely in an appropriate sharps container or bin and collected and disposed of by a licensed waste carrier, such as phs. Sharps are not just needles and syringes but applies to any object which has sharp points or edges which could cut, pierce or puncture skin. This includes scalpels, lancets, clippers, blades, knives, saws, broken glass and nails.  

Classified as hazardous waste, there are three types of sharps:  

  • Sharps contaminated with cytotoxic/cytostatic medicines 
  • Sharps contaminated with other medicines 
  • Sharps that have not been used to administer medicines. 

Using colour-coded bins and lids of sharps waste bins and containers ensures that sharps are properly segregated and subsequently disposed of in the right way.  

The following colour-coded system applies: 

  • Yellow lids and bins: Part of the clinical highly infectious waste stream, these are for any sharps which are contaminated with medication whether they still contain medical residue or even those which have been fully discharged. 
  • Orange lids and bins: Part of the clinical infectious waste stream, these are for sharps that have not been contaminated with medication such as syringes which have taken a blood sample. Orange sharps bins are also used for other non-contaminated sharps such as unwrapped needles or scalpels. 
  • Purple lids and bins: For sharps that may be contaminated with cytotoxic or cytostatic substances or active agents. 

All phs sharps containers are secure and robust as well as puncture, impact and solvent resistant. For extra security, phs also offers wall-mounted lockable sharps units with a study metal container, lockable front panels if required.  

Of course, the sharps disposal regulations aren’t just about putting sharps in the right-coloured bins. Organisations are also expected to: 

  • Keep sharps bins in a safe place and away from children 
  • Minimise use of sharps and only use when necessary 
  • Use safety features when possible, such as Stanley knives with plastic covers 
  • Discard sharps immediately after use 
  • Educate all staff of sharps disposal policy and provide clear instructions and rules 

What Happens When Sharps Disposal Guidelines Aren’t Followed? 

Since health and safety law is a criminal issue focused on the general public's safety, failing to follow the appropriate sharps container regulations is a serious offence and will result in fines at the very least. Some companies have even been shut down for failing to properly dispose of hazardous waste. A UK hospital trust was fined more than £20,000 in 2010 due to an incident related to sharps which led to a healthcare worker contracting hepatitis C following a sharps injury. No matter how big your organisation is, that’s a significant amount of money to any operation aside from the potentially catastrophic consequences to the health of your staff and patients.  

In order to keep up to date with what exactly is expected from you, it’s best to go directly to government legislation sources. Here are the links to the relevant legislation but also the Health and Safety Executive which publishes guidance on the regulations:  

It’s also worth noting how sharps disposal regulations in the UK have developed over time and where they might be going next in the constant journey towards safer sharps regulations. You can quite easily get a picture of this by reading some of the above legislation.  

Once you are up to date on your requirements, the next step is to appoint a staff member to oversee and be responsible for all sharps disposals including educating other employees and ensuring policy is followed. 

Of course, many businesses find it easier to outsource this to people experienced with the matter, and that’s where phs comes in. 

phs Sharps Disposal Services 

At phs, we are the UK’s leading sharps disposal experts with over 50 years of experience leading the nation’s specialist waste disposal solutions. 

We have operations centres and teams in every city and town in the country, meaning we’re your local experts, no matter where you are. This makes us the premier service provider for chain businesses with properties around the nation as well as independent businesses looking for a trusted service provider with a local presence.  

Our technicians are highly trained and tailor the service to meet your specific needs. With the right experience and expertise, we can visit your premises and manage all sharps disposal related tasks at a convenient time with no interruption to your daily operations.  

To learn more, contact us now and see how we can handle your sharps disposal requirements, leaving you with peace of mind that the important element of safe sharp disposal is taken care of so you’re not only complying to the legal regulations but are providing a safe environment for your staff and visitors.  

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