Risks associated with HCW

All individuals exposed to healthcare waste are potentially at risk of being injured or infected. They include:

  • Medical staff: doctors, nurses, sanitary staff and hospital maintenance personnel;
  • In and out-patients receiving treatment in healthcare facilities as well as their visitors;
  • Workers in support services linked to healthcare facilities such as laundries, waste handling and transportation services;
  • Workers in waste disposal facilities, including scavengers;
  • The general public and more specifically the children playing with the items they can find in the waste outside the healthcare facilities when it is directly accessible to them.

Waste management and treatment options should first protect the healthcare workers and the population and minimise indirect impacts from environmental exposures to HCW.

Occupational and public health risks

During handling of wastes, the medical and ancillary staff as well as the sanitary labourers can be injured if the waste has not been packed safely.

In that respect, sharps are considered as one of the most dangerous category of waste. Many injuries occur because syringe needles or other sharps have not been collected in safety boxes or because these have been overfilled.

The general public can be infected by HCRW either directly or indirectly through several routes of contamination [read more…]

Dumping HCW in open areas is a practice that can have major adverse effects on the population. The «recycling» practices that have been reported, particularly, the reuse of syringes is certainly the most serious problem in a number of countries.

The WHO estimates that over 23 million infections of hepatitis B, C and HIV occur yearly due to unsafe injection practices (reuse of syringes and needles in the absence of sterilization).

There is also a public health risk linked to the sale of recovered drugs in the informal sector when the elimination of expired drugs isn’t properly controlled and monitored.

Indirect risks via the environment

Finally, the dumping of HCW in uncontrolled areas can have a direct environmental effect by contaminating soils and underground waters.

During incineration, if no proper filtering is done, air can also be polluted causing illnesses to the nearby populations.

This has to be taken into consideration when choosing a treatment or a disposal method by carrying out a rapid environmental impact assessment (EIA).