Working with sharps and clinical waste

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, anyone that disposes of waste has a duty of care to ensure that waste is disposed of safely.

Subjects covered by the Act are as follows:

  • Waste management
  • Noise pollution
  • Neighbourhood pollution
  • Radioactive substances
  • Genetically Modified organisms
  • Nature Conservation

Under the Act, it’s unlawful to deposit, recover or dispose of controlled (including clinical) waste without a waste management licence, contrary to the conditions of a licence or the terms of an exemption, or in a way which causes pollution of the environment or harm to human health. Contravention of waste controls is a criminal offence. Section 34 of the act places people concerned with controlled (including clinical) waste under a duty of care to ensure that the waste is managed properly, recovered, or disposed of safely and is only transferred to someone who is authorised to keep it. Householders are exempt for their own household waste.

Hazardous healthcare waste is subject to the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005. [Extract is taken from Gov.UK website – waste 30th June 2014]

All commercial businesses must have a waste removal contract with either the council or a private waste removal company. If you produce less than one bin bag full of clinical waste per collection, then you can dispose of clinical waste such as cotton wool and tissues with normal waste collection. If you produce more than this per collection, then a suitable clinical waste contract must be obtained.

Clinical waste

Clinical waste is the term used to describe waste produced from healthcare and similar activities that may pose a risk of infection, for example, swabs, bandages, dressings etc. or may prove hazardous, for example medicines. The most used definitions can be found in the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992. Clinical wastes and healthcare wastes must be segregated into yellow clinical waste bags from other types of waste and be treated/disposed of appropriately in suitably permitted, licensed or exempt facilities based on the hazard it poses. Used sharp objects must be disposed of in yellow sharps bins. Some councils may collect and dispose of clinical and sharps waste. There may be a charge for this service. Bags and bins are inexpensive and easy to buy from online sources, and some councils may replace these for you on collection. Clinical waste bags must be placed in a metal bin with a lid that is operated by a foot pedal mechanism so to avoid contact and cross contamination.

Sharps disposal

Anything sharp that could pierce or has pierced skin should be put into the correct category of sharps disposal.

The below items should all be disposed of in a sharps bin:

  • Needles
  • Scalpels
  • Stitch cutters
  • Glass ampoules
  • Sharp instruments
  • Shards of bone and teeth
  • Syringes
  • Lancets
  • Razor blades

For more information, please contact your local council, or refer to the following link:

Alternatively, should you have a large, regular amount of clinical or sharps waste, there are many private companies that you may use who specialise in this kind of disposal at a fee.

Working with sharps

Under the Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013, steps must be taken to avoid unnecessary use of sharps. Where it is not reasonably practical to avoid use of medical sharps, the employer is required to:

  • Use safe sharps (incorporating protection mechanisms) where it is reasonably practical to do so.
  • Prevent the recapping of needles.
  • Place secure containers and instructions for safe disposal of sharps close to the work area.
  • Provide information to employees on the risks from injuries, relevant legal duties of employers and employees; good practice in preventing injuries; the benefits and drawbacks of vaccination and the support available to an injured person from their employer.
  • Provide appropriate training to ensure employees know how to work safely. The training must cover the correct use of safe sharps, safe use, and disposal of sharps, what to do in the event of an injury and the employer’s arrangements for health surveillance.
  • Have arrangements in place in the event of an injury, which includes keeping a record of the incident, investigation of the circumstances of an incident and to take action to prevent a recurrence. The HSE advises that records of the incident should include details of the type of sharp involved, at what stage of the procedure the incident occurred and the severity of the injury.
  • Ensure that injured employees who may have been exposed to a blood-borne virus have immediate access to medical advice; are offered post-exposure prophylaxis or other treatment as advised by a doctor and offered counselling where appropriate.
  • Review, at suitable periods, the effectiveness of procedures and control measures.

This regulation applies to those whose primary activity is to organise, manage and provide treatments to others that involve the use of sharps. Those covered under this regulation include those who undertake the procedure as well as all others that may encounter any sharps, to include all employees, servicemen, and cleaners. The main requirement is to assess the risk of sharp injuries under the COSHH Regulations.

Work practice control  

These controls aim to change the behaviour of workers to reduce exposure to occupational hazards. Examples include:

  • No needle recapping or re-sheathing
  • Safe construction of sharps containers
  • Placing sharps containers at eye level and within arm’s reach
  • Disposing of sharps immediately after use in designated sharps containers
  • Sealing and discarding sharps containers when they are three-quarters full
  • Establishing means for the safe handling and disposal of sharps devices before the beginning of a procedure.
  • Safe storage of full sharps containers, which should be stored in a safe place and carried away from the body with the lid firmly closed.

For more information on Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 please go to the following link: