OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
Bookmark this page

Part 35 Health Care and Industries with Biological Hazards

Section 526 Sharps containers

Biohazardous material

Sharps include needles, knives, scalpels, blades, scissors and other items that can cut or puncture the skin, and may also be contaminated with a biohazardous material.

Typically, only those workers involved in health care are thought of as being at risk of contracting disease from biohazardous materials. However, other workers can also be exposed to biohazardous materials. This includes workers involved in law enforcement, workers who provide fire and rescue services, workers who work at correctional institutions and funeral homes, and workers who function as first aiders at worksites.

The definition of “biohazardous material” in this section applies to organisms that may cause disease in humans. In particular, it applies to pathogens that are or would be classified by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Office of Laboratory Security as Risk Group 2, 3 or 4 as described in the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines (2004).

Risk Group 2 (moderate individual risk, limited community risk)

Risk Group 2 includes pathogens that can cause human or animal disease but, under normal circumstances, are unlikely to be a serious hazard to laboratory workers, the community, livestock, or the environment. Examples of Risk Group 2 pathogens include the Hepatitis B and C viruses, salmonella, and E. coli bacteria. Effective treatment and preventive measures are available and the risk of spread is limited.

Risk Group 3 (high individual risk, low community risk)

Risk Group 3 includes pathogens that usually cause serious human or animal disease, or which can result in serious economic consequences. Risk Group 3 pathogens do not ordinarily spread by casual contact from one individual to another; antimicrobial or antiparasitic agents can treat the pathogens. Examples of Risk Group 3 pathogens include hantavirus, tuberculosis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the virus causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Risk Group 4 (high individual risk, high community risk)

Risk Group 4 includes pathogens that usually produce very serious human or animal disease, often untreatable, and may be readily transmitted from one individual to another, or from animal to human or vice-versa directly or indirectly, or by casual contact. Examples of Risk Group 4 pathogens include the hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Marburg and Lassa.

Under WHMIS, biohazardous infectious materials are classified under Division 3 of Class D (Poisonous and Infectious Material). This division applies to organisms such as viruses, bacteria, rickettsia, fungi, protozoa, and helminthes, which cause disease or are reasonably believed to cause disease in persons or animals, and to the toxins produced by such organisms.

The Public Health Agency of Canada classifications also include pathogens that are capable of causing disease in humans or animals.  The definition of “biohazardous material” in this section does not apply to organisms capable of causing disease in animals, but does include toxins produced by organisms capable of causing human disease.

For more information
Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines
3rd Edition (2004)
Preventing the Transmission of Bloodborne Pathogens in Health Care and Public Service Settings
Health Canada

Sharps container design

A sharps container is a container into which sharps are placed for safe containment and disposal. Sharps containers are made from a variety of materials, including lined cardboard, metal and plastic. To be acceptable for use, the container must have the following characteristics:

(1) puncture resistant – the container must be sturdy enough to prevent contained sharps from puncturing the container during normal conditions of use and handling, particularly when being disposed;

(2) fill line – the container must have a fill line indicating the maximum level to which the container can safely be filled. For most containers, this should be no more than ¾ full;

(3) closable – during normal handling and disposal, contained sharps must not be able to fall out;

(4) leakproof on the sides and bottom – this prevents any accumulated fluids from leaking out of the container and posing a hazard to workers; and

(5) labelled or colour-coded – the container must be clearly labelled as containing sharps or colour-coded according to the employer’s safe work practices. Acceptable labelling includes the universal “biohazard” symbol, the WHMIS biohazard symbol or the word “SHARPS” appearing on the container. In all cases the label must be clearly visible.

Many types of sharps containers are commercially available. Containers emptied of their original contents are also acceptable for containing sharps as long as all of the above criteria are met.

In terms of safe use practices, sharps containers should:

(a) not be filled to more than ¾ of their maximum capacity – this prevents injuries due to overfilling;
(b) be upright during all times of use – to prevent spills and leaks;
(c) not be emptied into another container and the original sharps reused – this exposes workers to an unacceptable hazard for injury; and
(d) have their lids in place – this prevents spills and limits access to the collected materials. Immediately before a sharps container is removed or replaced, its lid must be secured in place to prevent the contents from spilling or sticking out during handling, storage, transport or shipping. Some lids may need to be securely taped in place.

The employer is responsible for providing sharps containers, making sure they are easily accessible, located as close as reasonably practicable to where sharps are used, and making sure that workers use the containers. Locating sharps containers close to the point of use encourages their immediate use and reduces or eliminates the need for workers to carry contaminated sharps.

Point of use placement also helps to reduce the likelihood of the contaminated sharp being placed into a pocket for later disposal, or left in bedding materials, only to be unexpectedly found later. It may be appropriate to place sharps containers in locations such as health care facility laundry areas where sharps can be reasonably expected to be found.

While the employer must provide sharps containers, workers must use them. Workers should plan ahead how they will safely handle their sharps, including disposal into a sharps container.

For more information
CSA Standard Z316.6-07, Evaluation of Single-Use and Reusable Medical Sharps Containers for Biohazardous and Cytotoxic Waste
CSA Standard Z317.10-09, Handling of Waste Materials in Health Care Facilities and Veterinary Health Care Facilities