Waste Stream Management: Keeping Cleaners from Making Costly Mistakes

For health care facilities, it’s not only the infection control teams that need to understand waste stream management – it’s as important that your cleaning crews have a firm grasp on how to properly dispose of an array of items.

Why? Well, health and safety are the obvious reasons. Gallons of blood doesn’t belong in the dumpster, nor do you want needles floating around the recycling bin. But, a well-trained team can also protect you from potentially costly fines that can sneak up on you if crews aren’t well versed in waste management – even if the mistake is an honest one.

Color coding. So we’re on the same page.

If you’re reading this it’s highly likely you’re aware of the color-coding system healthcare systems have adopted. While it can vary, it generally looks like this:

Yellow – Chemotherapy drugs and associated medical supplies
Red – Biohazards such as bodily fluids, sharps, etc.
Black – Non-biohazardous pharmaceutical waste
White – Medical recyclables

Nuanced Training Matters

All of our healthcare cleaning crews undergo extensive training, ranging from on-site procedures to in-depth practice with our healthcare leadership team and health & safety officer.

We’re regimented in our teaching, so understanding the color-coded system is a must. For us, that’s table stakes.

But, it goes beyond that. It’s critical our cleaning crews understand the specifics to help you prevent potential fines being issued against your organization. What do I mean?

Well, for instance, if “recyclables” are dry, they can be recycled in a white container. But, if they contain more than 2% liquid they have to go into a black container. The same goes for blood. If, less than 2% of the item contains blood, then it can go in a black container. Otherwise, it needs go into a red one.

Plenty of other examples exist, but I imagine you’re aware of them. The point is, it’s critical to ensure your cleaners – on staff and part of your commercial cleaning company – clearly understand how to handle each and every item.

If they don’t understand, as mentioned earlier, it can be costly. Like six-figure costly.

What a Mistake Can Cost

We’ll leave you with this quick story …

This is a true instance that led to a steep fine for a healthcare organization. An employee, who worked as part of the janitorial team, was trying to be efficient. To save time, he put all the trash bags he had gathered into the dumpster.

Now, he wasn’t trying to do anything wrong. Had no ill intentions. He was simply not well trained. So, along with those bags, he also threw a 3-gallon sharps container into the dumpster to shave a few seconds. That mistake ended up costing the company over $100,000 in fines.

I share this as a sobering reminder that it pays to be diligent with the details, and it’s a must for cleaning crews operating in healthcare facilities. Our teams are among the most extensively trained folks in the business because we realize what one mistake can lead to.

If you’re curious about how we train our teams and approach cleaning in health care facilities, send us a note any time.

About the Author

Tenzin Kunga is KleenMark’s Medical Operations Assistant Manager. With decades of experience, Tenzin oversees some of the most sophisticated medical cleaning programs for healthcare facilities throughout Wisconsin.


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