Sharps & Biohazards

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Sharps and Biohazards

What is a Biohazard?

“Biohazard” is a shortened form of “Biological Hazard”.

Objects or substances that can carry disease, viruses, parasites or fungus that could be dangerous to people, animals or the environment are potential biohazards.

This module discusses biohazards that staff working in retail environments might encounter. Each of these can carry viruses that can cause serious diseases in people who come into contact with them. Hypodermic needles, syringes and condoms, for example, can carry small amounts of bodily substances that could be contaminated with viruses such as HIV or hepatitis B and C.

NOTE: This module does not address biohazards such as animal bites, insect stings, mould or fungus, which are less prevalent in retail.

Viruses can enter the body of a person who contacts them through the skin (especially if it is broken or if they have an abrasion or rash), or through the eyes, mouth or mucus membranes.

What are “Sharps”?

The word “sharps” is most often used to refer to needles and syringes, but sharps can also mean other sharp instruments such as razor blades and knives. It is very important that all staff understand the hazards associated with sharps and know how to safely handle and dispose of them.

Most people are familiar with the bright yellow plastic containers used for safely disposing of sharps commonly found in hospitals, clinics, and many public washrooms.  Use a proper container to dispose of sharps and potential biohazards. It is not safe or acceptable to put them in the regular garbage. Sharps must be handled with extreme care and be disposed of properly and safely in order to protect staff and the public.

Avoiding Contact with Biohazards

Some basic things all staff should know are:

  • Never touch a used needle or condom with your bare hands
  • Always assume that sharps and condoms are contaminated and hazardous
  • Always wear gloves when cleaning washrooms and taking out the garbage
  • Always wear gloves when administering first aid
  • Never put your bare hands into places you can’t see
  • Be especially careful around garbage...

All kinds of things can end up in the garbage, especially in public areas such as washrooms. Workers need to know how to protect themselves against contact with sharp objects such as needles and broken glass that might have been improperly discarded in garbage.

Staff tips for handling garbage safely:

  • Handle garbage as little as possible.
  • Use waterproof garbage bags.
  • Be alert. Watch for sharp objects sticking out of the bag. Listen for broken glass when you move the bag.
  • Don’t compress garbage or reach into garbage containers with your bare hands.
  • Use puncture-resistant, liquid-resistant gloves or specially designed tools to pick up overflowing garbage.
  • Don’t let garbage bags get too full. Leave enough free space at the top so that when you grab it, you only grab the top of the bag, not the stuff inside. Lighter bags are also easier to carry away from your body.
  • Hold garbage bags by the top of the bag, away from your body.
  • Don’t use your hand to hold or support the bottom of the bag.

What Can Employers do to Keep Staff Safe?

Employers are required to keep staff safe by giving them the knowledge and training they need to protect themselves from all the hazards they may encounter at work, including biohazards.  Follow up to make sure staff follow their training by providing good, constructive supervision.

In fact, protecting staff against biohazards should be part of your ongoing efforts to identify all workplace hazards and control them. Control measures include:

  • Educating staff on the nature of biohazards.
  • Training staff in the safe handling and disposal of potentially contaminated objects.
  • Installing and monitoring sharps collection/disposal containers in public washrooms.
  • Providing single-use sharps disposal kits for staff use.
  • Posting instructions for handling and disposal in a conspicuous place.
  • Training staff in safe handling and disposal procedures for sharps and other biohazards. Keep records and offer periodic refresher training.
  • Record all occasions in which staff come across sharps and biohazards.

What to Do if You Find a Used Needle

Here are some tips for staff to follow if they find a used needle*.

You have no way of knowing whether a used needle is contaminated or not. You must assume that the needle is hazardous. Never touch needles or suspicious objects with your bare hands.

If you find a needle:

  • Protect the area so that no one else will accidentally find it
  • If you find a used syringe without a needle, carefully inspect the area for it
  • Get the Sharps Disposal Kit. The kit contains: a needle container, nitrile gloves, instructions
  • Put on the gloves
  • Put the needle container on a flat surface such as a counter, shelf or the floor
  • Pick up the needle/sharp by its shaft (not the needle end) with your gloved hand
  • Using one hand, place the sharp - needle-end first - into the container. Don’t pick up the container with your free hand in order to do this – you could accidentally jab yourself. Leave the container on the floor or shelf where you placed it originally
  • Close the lid. Do not close the lid of the container until the needle is inside. It can’t be reopened
  • Carefully place the container back into the plastic bag and seal it (in case the needle touched the outside of the container)
  • Remove the gloves by rolling them off your hands so that they become inside-out. That way the outside of the gloves won’t touch your skin
  • Dispose of the gloves into the garbage
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Safely dispose of the container as quickly as possible. Most pharmacies will accept the container because it’s a service they offer for diabetic customers. Call your nearest pharmacy to make sure.  In some areas, needle exchange program providers may be able to come and pick up the container.
  • Report the find and location to your supervisor
  • Make sure there is another Sharps Disposal Kit available

Beware:

  • Never throw needles into the garbage as others could jab themselves
  • Do not use tongs to pick up needles. Using your protected hands is the safest and most controlled way to pick up needles
  • Do not reach into or climb into outdoor garbage bins for any reason. Most drug users discard their needles into public garbage bins

What to Do if You Get Accidentally Pricked by a Needle

  • Try to keep the area downward to promote bleeding
  • Don’t put the area in your mouth! (It can be a habitual reaction if you have drawn blood -- resist it!)
  • Wash the area thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Go to the nearest medical clinic or hospital emergency immediately

What to Do if You Find a Used Condom

  • Use puncture-resistant, liquid-resistant gloves to pick it up
  • Put it in a plastic bag
  • Seal the bag and put it in the garbage
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water

What to Do if You Accidentally Contact Any Other Potential Biohazard

  • Wash the contacted area thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Go to the nearest medical clinic or hospital emergency immediately

*Adapted from materials developed and shared with us by Kerrisdale Cameras, Vancouver, BC

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