If you run a public space or an office, you’ll need to be aware of what constitutes a biohazard when it comes to your waste streams. It is essential that those who come into contact with biological hazards know what one is, and exactly how to handle, dispose of and clean the biological hazards safely.
The definition of a biological hazard
A biological hazard or biohazard is a biological substance that is a threat to the health of animals or humans. This can cover a range of substances and materials, all of which have to be handled with great care. Any potentially hazardous materials must be treated to prevent hazardous waste from causing an issue.
If biohazardous waste isn’t correctly handled, they can create an unsafe environment. In some situations, certain biohazardous waste has to be handled by a specialist. Lots of cleaning companies now offer biohazard cleaning as a service for trauma and crime scenes.
Examples of biohazards
The main types of biological hazard can be categorised under one of the following. Some categories do overlap.
Infectious waste is likely to come from a hospital, first aid booth, or doctor’s surgery. It can, however, also come from other places such as clubs and disabled toilets.
It includes anything with human blood, used and therefore contaminated personal protective equipment, IV tubing, laboratory equipment or biological materials such as cell cultures and specimen cultures that may have been contaminated with an infectious disease.
Anything that is designed to puncture or cut the skin (needles, scalpels) can be contaminated with biological materials and therefore is biohazardous waste.
Animal waste can be classed as biohazardous waste if it has been infected with or inoculated against infectious diseases that may impact humans.
Pathological waste or medical waste
This constitutes any waste from hospitals and morgues, and involves human blood and human blood products, as well as removal of other body fluid spillages and tissues. Medical waste may include body fluids like:
- cerebral spinal fluid
- amniotic fluid
- pericardial fluid
- peritoneal fluid
This is usually relevant in a laboratory, and consists of concentrated forms of infectious products and things like cell cultures or samples.
Laboratory workers are trained to know what waste streams their equipment needs to be put into, as this can be essential for disease control.
Biohazardous waste is categorised into four levels
If you’re handling biohazardous waste, or trying to figure out who to contact to remove it, you’ll need to determine which level of biohazard you’re dealing with.
Biohazard Level One
Level one consists of bacteria and viruses that can cause chicken pox, E. coli, or Bacillus subtilis. These pose only a small risk, but should still be handled carefully. The precautions needed to be taken are minimal. Gloves and a medical mask should suffice.
Biohazard Level Two
This encompasses any kind of bacteria or viruses that cause only a mild disease or that is difficult to spread through airborne pathogens which otherwise would need fogging. Things like influenza, Lyme disease, hepatitis, dengue fever and scrapie would fit into this category.
Biohazard Level Three
This is where things get a little more serious. Diseases and viruses that can cause severe illness or fatality fall under category three, but only if they are treatable. This includes things like:
- West Nile virus
Biohazard Level Four
As you’d expect, level four is saved for fatal illnesses that are not curable or treatable. Things like:
- ebola virus
- Bolivian hemorrhagic fever
- Marburg virus
To correctly handle level four biohazardous waste, you will need a clean lab, multiple showers, a vacuum room, segregated air supply, pressure suits – the full works.
How to correctly handle biohazardous waste
It is essential if you or any of your staff are going to come into contact with biohazardous materials that you know what to do with them. Here’s a breakdown of what you should do with different types of waste.
Sharps must be put into a sharps container – this is like a special bin solely for this purpose. The container must be closable, puncture resistant, leakproof, and labelled.
In the UK, the box can then be collected by the local council.
Liquid biohazardous materials
Things like cultures and specimens should be collected into a vacuum flask that is both leak-proof and non-breakable. They should be fitted with HEPA filters and will need to be discharged and cleaned whenever they reach 50% capacity (or on a regular basis).
Solid biohazardous material
This kind of biohazard must be kept in a sturdy, leak-proof container that is lined with an appropriate biohazard bag and is appropriately labelled as a biohazard box.
Anything that has been potentially exposed to hazardous biological material can be placed in here, and can then be disposed of by the necessary professionals.
What are the risks of not handling biological hazardous substances correctly?
It is essential that any kind of biohazard is treated with importance and handled correctly. Improper disposal of biohazard waste could result in the release of a disease into the general public, which could be ruinous for public health. Incorrectly stored sharps can cause transfers of infection, which can be fatal in cases of viruses such as HIV/AIDs.
Correctly handling biological material when handling waste is the only way to safely prevent the spread of disease caused by the materials, and can help to keep not only staff but the general public, animals and others safe. Failing to do so could, in the wrong circumstances, be catastrophic for the local and global community.