Needles and scalpel blades are common waste products on a pork operation, and while much attention is given to their proper usage, what happens when you're done?

The trashcan is not the proper way to dispose of those items. In fact, there are Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines outlining the proper disposal of sharps.

Are your employees aware of the do's and don'ts here? More importantly, are they following through with the proper procedures?

Perhaps it's time for a checkup. At the very least, it may be worthy of review at your next staff meeting.

All medical sharps should be handled with caution. Few viral swine diseases can cause disease in humans, but some of the bacteria found in pork production operations can cause illness in humans.

Careless handling of items contaminated with bacteria and lack of proper hygiene is the common link between bacteria found in livestock operations and disease in humans caused by those bacteria, notes Jim Carlton, Swine Practitioner magazine editor.

Materials needed
To dispose of medical sharps properly, you will need the following:

  • A hard-plastic or metal container with a screw-on or tight-fitting lid, such as a plastic laundry detergent container, coffee can or milk bottle.
  • Duct tape.
  • "Sharps Disposal Container" label.

Steps to take
Once you have the materials, here are the next steps you need to take:

  • Label the container with the biohazard label previously noted. You also may want to write "Sharps" on the container.
    Remember, if you have workers with little ability to read English, you need to educate them on the words and/or provide the message in a language they can read and understand.
  • Place the medical-sharps container well out of the reach of children and animals.
  • Once a scalpel blade, needle or disposal syringe has been used, it should immediately be placed in the rigid, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, labeled container.
  • Ensure that the lid is tightly closed and secure when not in use.
  • Wash hands after handling any medical sharps.

A full container
Once a sharps container is full, there are two options to take.

  • Sift dry Portland Cement into the container and throughout its contents and fill with water. Let the cement dry for 24 hours. Seal the container lid tightly with duct tape.
  • Incinerate until all sharps are melted into a solid mass. Note that aluminum hubs are easy to melt, but the stainless-steel needle shafts are hard to melt without providing additional oxygen.

Disposal options
Even after all the previous steps, you can't simply through the remains into the trash. Here are your options for proper disposal:

  • If you've sealed the container, contact local waste-disposal officials to get approval for sending the medical-sharps container to an approved landfill.
  • If you've melted the sharps, the remains can be buried in an identified location within the operation's land base. Note that a record of the disposal date and exact location of each disposal is required.

Of course it's always wise to contact your state's Department of Environmental Quality or other related agency to get more detailed information or state-specific guidelines for sharps disposal.