If your business generates potentially infectious medical waste, you are legally obligated to responsibly dispose of it. Correct disposal laws aim to protect human health, worker safety, and environmental purity.
Hospitals, dentists, and laboratories generate medical waste, but many other businesses and organizations create potentially infectious waste and need to be aware of their legal obligations.
Medical waste disposal laws are drafted and enforced by various regulatory agencies at both the federal and state levels. This article provides insight into some of the main federal medical waste laws and the penalties for not abiding by them.
The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act
The US Department of Transportation, or DOT, derives their authority to regulate the transportation of hazardous waste from the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA). Under this federal law they develop regulations and standards for classifying, handling, and packaging hazardous materials.
As of now, the HMTA places the most emphasis on correct packaging of hazardous materials. To enforce compliance, the DOT performs random packaging inspections at freight terminals and transportation facilities. Failure to comply with HMTA standards results in civil or criminal penalties.
Civil penalties can cost up to $75,000 for each day of the violation when an individual knowingly violates the HMTA. If the infractions result in serious injury or death the fine can be raised to $175,000.
Criminal penalties are issued if a person knowingly tampers with labels or packaging of hazardous materials, and can result in a fine or jail time of up to ten years.
The Bloodborne Pathogen Standard
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is concerned with keeping employees safe while on the job.
Workplaces that pose the risk of spreading diseases from substances contaminated with infectious materials must follow specific guidelines on how to prevent exposure and properly handle, store, label, transport, and dispose of these materials.
The Bloodborne Pathogen Standard is strictly enforced and designed to protect workers from health hazards caused by bloodborne pathogens.
Penalties for violating this standard are up to the discretion of the OSHA Area Director, and they’re based on the seriousness of the offense and whether or not it was a repeat violation.
Fines can range from several thousand dollars to $70,000 per day for each violation if it’s a repeat offense. Depending on the violation offenders may receive fines, up to six months in prison, or both.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not play a critical role in medical waste compliance, but they do have legal authority to regulate hazardous waste (which is often produced by companies that also generate medical waste) through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
This act is very broad, and it gives the EPA the power to regulate hazardous wastes from cradle to grave in order to protect human and environmental health.
The seriousness of the violation of this law determines the severity of the penalty. Violators can expect between 2 to 15 years in prison and/or at least a $50,000 fine per day of the violation.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
Part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) assures that your protected health information (PHI) isn’t stolen from medical waste. Any information that is linked to your medical history or payment history must be disposed of properly.
Penalties for a HIPAA violation range from $100 to $50,000 per violation. A violation could also result in imprisonment.
Many states have supplementary or additional laws that deal with the proper storage, transport, and disposal of medical waste. Always be sure to check with your local government and municipalities to stay on top of local regulations.
A popular program across many states is a take-back program, which facilitates the collection and disposal of expired medications. But these exist to support individuals and households—companies are ultimately responsible for the disposal of their own medical waste.
When it gets complicated, the use of a medical waste disposal service can help you avoid steep fines and any harmful consequences to your reputation.
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If your home or business produces potentially infectious medical waste, Medical Waste Pros can connect you to service providers who know exactly how to handle it.