Medical Waste Safety in the Veterinary Hospital

Every year, millions of animals are taken care of by veterinary professionals. While providing diagnosis, treatment, and care for these animals, a large amount of waste is generated, known as veterinary medical waste. This waste can contain items that pose various risks to human health, such as infectious, chemical, and physical hazards. Additionally, it may come as a surprise that veterinary care produces as many types of biohazardous waste as human care. This medical waste can present in many different forms such as solid, liquid and semi-liquid. Therefore, it is essential to manage and dispose of this waste properly to safeguard human health, animal welfare, and the environment. In this article, we will discuss the most common types of veterinary medical waste, how to dispose of them correctly, and the agencies that regulate medical waste management.

Sharps Waste

According to the CDC, approximately 800,000 people experience a needlestick injury annually. This equates to an average of one injury every 10 seconds. Items such as needles, scalpels, microscope slides, suture, punch biopsy needles, and IV catheters are classified as sharps materials. These instruments are used to handle animal blood or animal tissue, which then poses a significant risk of transmitting infectious diseases if not properly disposed of. It is crucial to differentiate between the various types of containers used for disposing of biohazardous materials. While sharps materials may fall under the category of biohazardous waste, they should only be disposed of in a designated sharps container. They should never be placed in a black biohazardous bin with a liner, as such containers do not have a mechanism in place to prevent access to the waste. Additionally, due to the sharp nature of these items, according to OSHA the appropriate container used to house discarded sharps needs to have the following qualities: 

  • Puncture-resistant
  • The sides and bottom must be leak proof
  • Appropriately labeled or color-coded red to warn all that the contents are hazardous
  • Have a large enough opening to accommodate disposal of the entire blood collection assembly
  • Be closeable when full or sealing the container is required

Biological Waste

In the veterinary field, biologic waste perhaps makes up the most significant portion of waste generated. The states of this waste range from solid, semi-liquid to liquid. Tissues such as organs and body parts removed during surgical procedures or necropies are examples of solid waste. Bodily fluids like blood, urine, saliva, and excrement may contain a variety of pathogens, bacteria and parasites. Due to the possibility of biological waste leaking, it’s critical a color coded biohazardous liner is utilized in the designated biohazardous waste bin. 

The scope of biological waste includes not only the tissue or body part of an animal, but also the materials and supplies that come into contact with them. This would include items such as personal protective equipment, IV tubing, wound dressings, surgical gauze, swabs and the like. When you are not sure if the blood or bodily fluid on your PPE is infectious, it's best to be safe and dispose of them in the designated biohazardous waste bin. Although it may seem natural to throw them in a regular trash bin, it's important to prioritize safety above convenience. So when in doubt, choose the biohazardous waste bin that is clearly colored, labeled and marked with the biohazardous waste symbol to avoid exposure or contamination incidents. 

Chemotherapy Waste

The waste generated during chemotherapy treatment in animals contains a large amount of cytotoxic agents that are mutagenic, teratogenic, or carcinogenic. Therefore, it is essential that employees who deal with chemotherapy patients receive adequate training on the proper disposal of all related waste. The most common types of chemotherapeutic waste are residue on the outside of drug containers, urine and excrement from cancer-treated patients, used PPE, and supplies or materials used when handling such patients. 

OSHA requires waste containing chemotherapy agents to be disposed of in properly labeled, covered, and sealed disposal containers and handled by trained and protected personnel. The recommended PPE when disposing of carcinogenic waste includes chemotherapy gloves, non-permeable gowns, respiratory protection, eye protection, and shoe covers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends double-bagging all chemotherapy waste such as partially filled vials, unused IV’s, needles and syringes, gowns, and contaminated materials from bodily fluids/waste to prevent leakage.

Effective waste management in veterinary practices involves comprehensive planning, containment, storage, and disposal of waste materials that align with OSHA regulations. Whether the waste is biologic, sharps, carcinogenic, or pharmaceutical, all hazardous material must be disposed of according to Federal, State and local regulations. If you need assistance with ongoing monitoring, documentation, evaluation of waste management, or additional medical waste OSHA compliance, please reach out to Certified Safety Training at or (609) 375-8462.


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