Sharps waste is a form of medical waste composed of used “sharps”, which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. Sharps waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled. Common medical materials treated as Sharps Waste are:
In addition to syringes and injection devices anything attached to them will also be considered sharps waste. Examples of such attachments could be a syringe, tube, or vacutainer. The entire complex is treated as one unit of sharps waste, even though the attached item cannot puncture or lacerate the skin.
The category of blades can include razors, scalpels, X-Acto knife, scissors, or any other medical items used for cutting in the medical setting.
Both needles and blades are always treated and handled with the highest concern as sharps waste. This is regardless of if they have been contaminated with biohazardous material. While glass and plastic are considered sharps waste, their handling methods can vary. Glass and plastic items, which have been contaminated with a biohazardous material, will be treated with the same concern as needles and blades (even if unbroken). If not contaminated, broken glass and plastic is still a sharp waste but does not pose the same public health risk. Therefore broken glass and plastic that has not been contaminated is not handled as delicately. Some common medical items of this category are test tubes, microscope slides, culture dishes, pipettes, and vials.
As a biohazardous material, injuries from sharps waste can pose a large public health concern. By penetrating the skin it is possible for this waste to spread blood-borne pathogens. The spread of these pathogens is directly responsible for the transmission of blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), and HIV. Health care professionals expose themselves to the risk of transmission of these diseases when handling sharps waste. The large volume handled by health care professionals on a daily basis increases the chance that an injury may occur. Contraction of disease through such an injury will inhibit health care workers from providing their services. This is a cost incurred by society in the promotion of public health. As trained professionals their services are not easily replaced.
The general public can be at direct risk to injuries from sharps waste as well. If these hazardous materials are not separated from standard waste, individuals can unknowingly come in contact with them. In addition, if sharps waste is not disposed, and removed from the environment, then it can be subject to reuse and misuse (both intentional and unintentional). This is especially applicable in the areas of hypodermic needles and blades. The spread of disease through sharps waste is preventable through proper management and disposal.