Safe Handling of Health Care waste
Feb 1, 2019
The Healthcare system is one of society’s most important and integral systems as it restores health and saves the lives of many people around the world. Unfortunately, it also generates Health Care Risk Waste (HCRW) as a by-product.
HCRW is a potential reservoir of harmful micro-organisms that can infect patients, healthcare workers, waste handlers and the general public. It is the responsibility of the waste generator to ensure that any HCRW is disposed of in an environmentally and responsible manner.
Hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities generate HCRW waste on a daily basis which includes infectious wastes, sharps, anatomical & pharmaceutical wastes. With these wastes comes great responsibility to public health.
The safe handling of HCRW during waste generation, storage, transportation and disposal is covered by the following South African Legislation;
- The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
- The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 (Act No. 59 of 2008)
- Waste Management Act (Act 59 0f 2008)
- Environmental Conservation Act (Act 73 of 1989)
- Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 0f 1993)
It is estimated that over 45,000 tons (45,000,000 kg) of HCRW is generated in South Africa each year. To collect, transport, treat and dispose of 1 kg of HCRW costs approximately R 20.00.
To do the same for 4,500,000 kg of HCRW would cost R20.00 x 4,500,000 kg = R 90,000,000.00!
Collection, transport, treatment and disposal of HCRW requires approved, external contractors and this makes HCRW Management potentially one of the most profitable businesses in South Africa.
With the right skills, knowledge and certification, one can look into venturing in the business side of waste management as well as initiatives to improve public health and protect the health and safety of health care workers in the following ways:
- Preventing the spread of diseases
- Prevention of Occupational injuries/ illnesses
- Cost saving for health care facilities
- Having a lucrative business within the health sector
In order for a good HCRW management system to be effective, there needs to be proper training of the staff who generate the waste as well as the staff who will be handling and disposing of the waste.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that in 2000, exposure to contaminated syringes caused:
- 21 Million hepatitis B virus infections(31% of all new infections)
- 2 Million hepatitis C virus infections(40% of all new infections)
- 260 000 HIV infections(5% of all new infections)
HCRW management is a unique business as, in the process of generating income it also protects the well-being of employees and benefits the environment at the same time - i.e. earns whilst giving back to communities and their environments.