How to dispose of hazardous substances in the workplace

When we think of ‘hazardous substances’, we tend to picture chemicals. However, the term actually applies to any material or item that could cause harm. Working environments face these hazards every day, from healthcare to laboratory settings, so it’s important to make sure we’re disposing of harmful substances correctly.

Without due care and attention, we could expose ourselves to numerous harmful substances, from chemicals on surfaces to unsafe waste disposal. In the long term, unsafe disposal practices could even lead to health problems for your people, which also puts your business at risk.

In this blog, we’ll look at common hazardous workplace substances, and offer insights on how to properly dispose of these.

What hazardous substances are used in the workplace?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a hazardous substance as “anything that could potentially endanger the health of people that come into contact with it”. This covers a broad spectrum of workplaces and industries. For instance, a scientific, healthcare or construction environment could pose any number of potential hazards from chemicals, biohazards, solvents or pesticides. Elsewhere, risks are lower in environments such as an office.

What are some examples of hazardous materials?

Although specific to each industry, examples of hazardous workplace materials include:

  • Chemicals
  • Dust
  • Gases
  • Germs
  • Metals
  • Paints
  • Solvents

Disposing of hazardous substances correctly reduces the risk of physical harm – but it all depends on the substance itself. For example, if a chemical isn’t properly disposed of and traces are left behind, it could  potentially contaminate working areas and put multiple people at risk of exposure. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t overlook substances like paints, solvents and dust. If these aren’t controlled properly when in use, and disposed of correctly afterwards, they present a number of potential hazards, such as inhalation risk.

Below, we outline a handful of different industries and explain what hazardous substances are used and how they would be disposed of.

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What hazardous substances are frequently used in a care home?

There are multiple hazardous substances in care homes, from protective clothing and cleaning products to medicines and biohazards (human waste or blood).

Even Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like latex gloves qualify as potentially  hazardous  due to the potential substances they may come into contact with and the allergic reactions it could trigger. Due to the large volume of residents, care homes also require strong cleaning chemicals, which could be toxic.

How to dispose of hazardous materials in a care home

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Special Waste Regulation Act 1996, care homes must have strict substance disposal policies and practices. Improper disposal poses an enormous health risk to residents and staff.

Care homes often work with specialist waste disposal companies to arrange specific timeslots for waste collection. Normal waste can be disposed of in the same way any household would. However, items like used incontinence products and medical waste (medication, needles, dressings or swabs) require a dedicated collection company. Care home residents are particularly vulnerable, so it’s essential that hazardous substances and materials are disposed of properly and are stored securely prior to disposal.

What hazardous substances are used in hospitals?

In a mainstream healthcare setting such as a hospital, doctor’s surgery or dental surgery, there’s an even wider range of potential hazards. Likewise, these substances may cause particular harm to vulnerable patients and even visitors, such as those with breathing difficulties. Hospitals have strict hygiene standards, so the use of harsh cleaning chemicals is essential and unavoidable to prevent the spread of germs – but staff need to be trained in their safe use to protect themselves, patients around them and visitors to the facility.

Like care homes, there are a number of biohazards in the healthcare industry. Once again, staff must exercise caution when disposing of medical waste and medicines otherwise this may risk contamination or virus outbreaks, the results of which could be catastrophic.

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How to dispose of hazardous materials in a hospital

As with hazardous substances from care homes, waste from healthcare facilities such as hospitals requires collection by a qualified company. In some cases, not disposing of a hazardous substance correctly could cause widespread harm and, making sure that affected products were disposed of and surfaces were suitably cleaned is crucial.

NHS facilities categorise their waste and place it in plastic containers, which are stored in a secure facility for collection. Waste categories include anatomical waste, medications, pharmaceutical equipment and non-hazardous items.

In the past, many healthcare facilities would have their own facility for destroying hazardous substances. However, this resulted in a backlog of clinical waste, as well as pollution and contamination risks.  Today, waste is taken to a specialist facility to be destroyed.

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Why are cleaning materials hazardous?

Cleaning products are required in every industry, including the cleaning industry itself, so there is essentially a degree of risk for every business. Whatever the industry, business owners need to understand these risks. Common side effects of chemical cleaning products include skin problems, breathing difficulties or allergic reactions.

How to dispose of hazardous cleaning materials

Whether they’re used in commercial or domestic setting, all cleaning products should be locked away safely and only disposed of when empty.

Many will need to be binned or recycled – but you should always read the label if you’re not sure for the recommended method of disposal. If it’s not possible to recycle the packaging, all bottles should be completely emptied and sealed before being disposed of in a tied-up bin bag.

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