Whether you’re a male or female, you’ve been in a unisex or women’s restroom where sanitary disposal bins have been present (hopefully in every stall). You know what I’m talking about – those metal or white bins that are either on the wall of the stall or on the floor next to the toilet where women can dispose of sanitary napkins and tampons. Luckily for you, the contents are (usually) completely contained, so what you don’t see can’t hurt you, right? Just because you don’t see something, it doesn’t mean it’s not there – especially where bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and HIV are concerned.
What are bloodborne pathogens?
Bloodborne pathogens are diseases that can be spread through contaminated blood, and not just via blood-to-blood contact but also other bodily fluids.
The most common hazard faced when dealing with blood and bodily fluids is Hepatitis B. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide, including 12 million Americans, have been infected with the Hepatitis B virus and about 350 million live with chronic infection. The virus is extremely dangerous and an estimated 100,000 new cases occur each year. Death from chronic liver disease occurs in 15-25% of chronically infected persons. There is no cure for Hepatitis B and there are often no symptoms of infection until the disease has progressed. After exposure it can take two-six months for Hepatitis B to develop and symptoms include yellowing of eyes and skin, nausea, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue. Hepatitis B can survive outside of the body for at least a week.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is another common hazard associated with contact with blood and bodily fluids. In 2008, there were nearly 683,000 people in America reported to be living with HIV and by 2009 that number grew by 43,000 new diagnoses – and these numbers do not include those who took anonymous tests, had not been tested and were unaware that they had HIV, and those who had not reported that they had HIV. According to these statistics, 73% of Americans who were diagnosed with HIV had developed AIDS. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS and 18,000 people in America who have been diagnosed with AIDS die each year. HIV can survive outside the body for more than a few minutes depending on the environment, and that’s all it needs if you are next in line.
Are there any laws surrounding bloodborne pathogens?
In 1991, OSHA determined that employees face a significant health risk as a result of occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials. As a result, they mandated a universal precaution to protect from bloodborne pathogens including Hepatitis B and HIV. Here are a couple of excerpts from the official OSHA declaration:
Specimens of blood or other potentially infectious materials shall be placed in a container which prevents leakage during collection, handling, processing, storage, transport, or shipping.
All equipment and environmental and working surfaces shall be cleaned and decontaminated after contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials.
All bins, pails, cans, and similar receptacles intended for reuse which have a reasonable likelihood for becoming contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials shall be inspected and decontaminated on a regularly scheduled basis and cleaned and decontaminated immediately or as soon as feasible upon visible contamination.
* Click here to read the entire OSHA Mandate 1910.1030.
What types of areas are at risk?
Exposure to blood and bodily fluids exist in all restrooms, especially in the ladies room, where improper treatment of sanitary waste can increase the risk for exposure to bloodborne pathogens including Hepatitis B & C, HIV and other germs causing illnesses such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, E.coli and MRSA.
What’s the problem with common sanitary waste disposal bins?
Most sanitary waste disposal bins are attached to the walls of each stall and cannot be removed for complete cleaning of all the surfaces. Most of these containers have lids that require your hand to open them to then place the waste into a liner on the inside. When it comes time for cleaning, more often than not the cleaners will just remove the liners once per day and clean the outside of the unit only if there is any visible sign of contamination. As noted in the OSHA statement above, these bins should be “cleaned and decontaminated immediately… upon visible contamination.” Also, something can be contaminated and not be visible to the naked eye.Routine cleaning inspections are typically not immediate and proper daily cleanings of these bins are rare, leaving you exposed to potential Hepatitis B and HIV contaminations. And since Hepatitis B can live outside the body for at least a week, that leaves a lot of time for exposure even if you can’t see that the bin is contaminated.
What’s a good solution for safer protection from these issues?
Completely enclosed units that do not allow the user to see the waste at all which are also either no-touch or operated by a foot pedal will eliminate odor and bacteria from escaping the unit while also working to prevent cross-contamination from touching the unit. Units should be able to be cleaned on all surfaces (wall-mounted bins cannot be cleaned on all surfaces) and should be fully cleaned and emptied on a regular basis by trained staff members in compliance with OSHA mandates.
One unit that meets all of these requirements and then some is the Sanitary Disposal Service from Workplace Essentials. When the lid is opened, a masking tray is revealed, concealing the contents of the unit from the user. Women can dispose of their sanitary products without exposure to others’ potentially infectious waste. These units are available in no-touch infrared or foot-petal operated systems.
Another benefit is that each Sanitary Disposal Unit contains an Eco-Card: a blend of natural anti-microbial and odor control compounds, combined with vapor-release technology, which neutralizes the sanitary waste. The Eco-Card has a natural fragrance that is fresh and long lasting.
And you won’t have to worry about proper cleaning or maintenance. The Sanitary Disposal Units are maintained by Workplace Essentials’ trained service personnel who remove the used units and replace them with fresh ones at predetermined and regular intervals.
What happens now?
Well, the next time you’re in a unisex or ladies restroom, take a look at what type of sanitary disposal bins they have in place and see if they meet OSHA standards and can be completely cleaned. If not, you’ve got a few options. If you’re a manager, you can start looking into alternative options that can save you money while keeping your employees and customers safe such as the Sanitary Disposal Units from Workplace Essentials. If you are an employee or even a customer, maybe bring up your concerns to a manager and point them to this article or have them do some research on the different bins and units that are out there to find one that would be safer for all. It never hurts to ask, and who knows – you could be making the world a safer place.