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{Past Event} - Waste Worker Safety

February 17, 2006 - 1:00 pm - February 17, 2006 - 2:00 pm -- Eastern Standard Time


Findings of an investigation of worker safety issues at off-site medical waste treatment autoclave facilities:

California Department of Health Services Occupational Health Branch (CDHS/OHB) will report on their investigation into the worker occupational health impacts of off-site autoclave facilities. While the report will discuss findings for off-site treatment, certainly the issues can be helpful for hospitals treating waste on-site. Waste worker exposure issues are of concern for the health and safety of on-site housekeepers as they collect the material before it is sent off-site for treatment. Read on for the full background to this investigation and join us to learn more about the ethical obligation facilities have to demonstrate their commitment to health by taking control of their waste materials and training staff to collect and handle waste safely. A commitment to a healing environment encompasses a commitment to patients, to staff, to communities, to the environment, to off-site transporters, landfill and treatment workers and ultimately to ourselves.

Medical Waste and Incineration Prevention:

Regulatory and public recognition that burning medical waste in incinerators produced dioxins and other hazardous emissions led to significant changes in medical waste disposal practices. In 1997, there were approximately 2,400 hospital/medical infectious waste incinerators operating in the United States, whereas in 2004, 110 such incinerators remained. However, alternative approaches to improve medical waste disposal practices have primarily been directed towards ensuring treatment efficacy and reducing the environmental impacts of disposal technology. The potential worker health and safety concerns common to the implementation of all medical waste treatment technologies, i.e., the handling and transport of infectious sharps and other hazardous materials, have received limited scrutiny.

In December 2002, representatives of the Center for Environmental Health, the American Nurses Association, and Greenaction brought the issue of potential health impacts of the medical waste disposal work process to the attention of the California Department of Health Services Occupational Health Branch (CDHS/OHB). As part of Health Care Without Harm, these organizations advocate for medical waste management practices that minimize the impact on the health of workers, communities, and the environment. Specifically, these organizations were concerned about the potential occupational health hazards of large-scale off-site steam autoclaves that have been implemented to treat medical waste in lieu of incinerators that were shut down due to improved environmental regulations.

Primary prevention of occupational injury and illness involves ensuring that the implementation of alternative technologies to address environmental concerns also protects the health of workers. However, there was limited information about what hazards workers at steam autoclave or other treatment facilities actually encountered in practice, and how, or if, workers’ exposures were controlled. Although the potential for worker hazards was not unique to steam autoclave technology, off-site steam autoclaves were of particular importance. An estimated 90 percent of California hospitals manage essentially all of their regulated medical waste off-site, and nine of 12 off-site medical waste treatment facilities in California utilize steam sterilization technology. In response to this concern, CDHS undertook an investigation to assess the potential occupational hazards associated with a large-scale off-site steam autoclave and make recommendations to prevent illness and injury. The presentation will discuss the findings from CDHS’ investigation including recommendations for what health care facilities can do to protect the health and safety of workers who dispose of medical waste.

Useful Links:

Takehome Value

Hospitals and health care providers are responsible for their materials from cradle to grave. Only by carefully following the waste material’s itinerary can we adequately understand the various stopovers and final destination and assess the transport, treatment and disposal protocols in place. By taking a closer look at the health impacts of our materials AFTER they have left our facilities, providers should see more clearly their inherent responsibility to manage and segregate their materials carefully, before sending off-site for treatment and disposal. Offsite waste worker safety issues is another link in the chain. This call will provide yet another perspective to understand the facility’s ethical and regulatory obligation to reduce the toxicity of, reduce the volume of, and otherwise control the waste stream before it leaves the facility. This report will help us better understand the treatment worker health issues related to hospital waste treatment.



Patrice Sutton, M.P.H., California Department of Health Services
Research Scientist, Occupational Health Surveillance and Evaluation Program, Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Health Services. The Occupational Health Branch is located in Richmond, California and is the focal point in the Department of Health Services for surveillance, evaluation, and public education about occupational disease and injury among California workers. Ms. Sutton trained as an industrial hygienist, and received her Masters Degree in Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. She has 19 years of experience in occupational and environmental health research, industrial hygiene, public health practice, and policy development.

Julia Quint, Ph.D., California Department of Health Services
Chief, Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Health Services. Established by the Legislature in 1979, HESIS is a multidisciplinary program with expertise in toxicology, occupational medicine, and industrial hygiene. HESIS identifies, evaluates, and provides “early warnings” and practical information on toxic chemicals and other workplace hazards to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases, undertakes collaborative research and data collection activities, provides public information and education services, and undertakes policy initiatives such as recommending new or revised occupational health standards. In recent years, under Dr. Quint’s leadership and supported by US EPA grants, HESIS has worked closely with environmental agencies and other organizations to develop integrated, public health strategies to protect workers, community residents, and the environment from the hazards of toxic chemicals. In recognition of this collaborative work, HESIS received Pollution Prevention awards from Cal/EPA in 2002 and 2003. Dr. Quint trained as a research scientist and received her Doctorate in Biochemistry from the University of Southern California. She joined DHS in 1981, and has worked as a public health scientist for over 20 years.

Susan Wilburn, American Nurses Association
Susan Wilburn, MPH, RN, a registered nurse and an international occupational & environmental health specialist, serves as a technical consultant with the World Health Organization’s Occupational Health Programme and the Making Medical Injection Safer (MMIS) Health Care Worker study at John Snow, International. Ms Wilburn worked as a nursing consultant to the International Council of Nursing coordinating the joint WHO/ICN Needlestick Prevention Project in Tanzania, South Africa and Vietnam. Prior to that, Susan Wilburn worked for 10 years at the American Nurses Association, founding the Center for Occupational & Environmental Health. Under her leadership, ANA joined H2E as one of the four partners along with the AHA, EPA and HCWH, and the ANA’s Safe Needles Save Lives campaign of education, capacity building and advocacy led the effort nationally to pass the 2000 Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. Susan received her undergraduate degree from the Kent State (Ohio) University School of Nursing and an MPH from the University of Washington.

Webinar speakers have no financial or other interest in the sponsoring company and the sponsor has had no input into the content of the presentation.

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