Rebecca Waters: Keep Clinical Waste Clear

Law & Regulation
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Initial Medical’s Rebecca Waters: Spotlight on clinical waste

Dental professionals know about clinical waste. However, unlike some other waste streams that are rather more straightforward to identify and dispose of correctly, the rules surrounding clinical waste can be a bit confusing.

A refresher on clinical waste is especially relevant right now as any waste generated during the treatment of patients throughout the COVID crisis must be deemed clinical waste and disposed of safely and correctly.

According to the Department of Health’s colour code guidelines for best practice waste disposal, two colours are associated with clinical waste.

Infectious clinical waste (Orange)

Items in this waste stream include everything from gloves to aprons, bibs, masks, or anything else that has come into contact with fluids that could potentially hold infectious diseases, such as blood. In dentistry, this means anything that comes into contact with the aerosol created during an AGP must be destroyed by treatment or incineration.

Highly infectious clinical waste (Yellow)

This contains many of the same items, but these are classified highly infectious if it is confirmed or heavily suspected that the patient has a disease that can be spread through contact with bodily fluids. This means anything disposed of after treating individuals with conditions such as COVID, hepatitis and HIV must be incinerated.

Judgement as to whether something should be categorised as yellow or orange waste is in your hands.

Correct disposal is essential

Clinical waste must be segregated from other items to avoid the spread of infection. Some pathogens survive in droplets of dried blood for days or even weeks, and could be spread by contact with people who aren’t wearing protective equipment.

A contaminated pair of gloves in landfill could come into contact with people or wildlife and spread to the wider community, making it essential for the safety of others to dispose of these items correctly. Otherwise the reputation of your practice might suffer; not to mention any legal fallout that might occur.

If someone should be exposed to infectious material due to improper disposal of waste they would have every right to take legal action against your practice, leading to a financial and social impact from which it might be difficult to recover.

COVID and clinical waste

Under “COVID-19: Guidance for infection prevention and control in healthcare settings”, any material generated from a possible or a confirmed case of coronavirus must be disposed of as Category B clinical waste.

COVID is easily spread from respiratory droplets expelled by coughing, requiring extra caution when treating any patient. Even if you think an item has not come into contact with any body fluids from a patient, it should still be treated as if it has, just to be safe.

Keep clinical waste clear

I reiterate that now dental practices are opening once more it’s a really good idea to host a refresher on waste disposal, or display some of Initial Medical’s Colour Code Character posters around the practice (

These fun designs assign a character to each of the colours in the Department of Health’s colour code for best practice waste disposal, and offer extra visual clues to help staff remember what waste belongs in which category at a glance.

Clinical waste is always going to be one of the most common waste streams in your practice. By ensuring that you and your staff are aware of what clinical waste is, where and how it should be disposed of and the dangers that these waste streams can carry, you can help guarantee that your practice remains a safe space for all, even during these unique and challenging times.

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