What would you do? Handling ‘sharps’ in your community
It can be alarming and even frightening for both staff and tenants when needles, syringes or other ‘sharps’ show up in your community. Whether they are being used for medical or recreational purposes, as a landlord you will likely have to deal with sharps at one point or another – are you prepared? Mitigate risks for your tenants and your staff by learning how to safely handle and dispose of these materials.
Sharps can include needles, needle tips and syringes, as well as a range of diabetes-related supplies like infusion sets, insulin pens and lancets. These materials should never be thrown into the garbage because they can be harmful for anyone who comes into contact with them. Instead, they should be disposed of using an approved sharps container.
The Health Products Stewardship Association (HPSA), a national organization formed to respond to the collection and safe disposal of health products, has introduced the Ontario Sharps Collection Program to promote the safe and easy disposal of sharps. This brochure lays out the correct disposal of sharps in three easy steps, which are:
1) Obtain a sharps container
2) Place sharps within it
3) Take it to a designated disposal location when it is full
Sharps Found in Public Places
When sharps are found in public places, extra precautions should be taken so that the people handling them do not come into direct contact. The Region of Waterloo’s Public Health department says that all sharps should be treated as contaminated, and offers the following recommended steps that you should make your staff aware of:
- Wear gloves
- Use tongs, pliers or tweezers to pick them up, and disinfect the instrument afterwards
- Pick up needles by the plastic end
- Point the tip away from your body
- Do not hold the sharps container while placing the needle inside; instead place it on a stable surface
- Place the needle point down into the container, and do not force it in
- Close the container securely, and take it to the nearest disposal location
- Sanitize your hands after gloves are remove
Obtaining and Returning Sharps Containers
You can obtain – and return – sharps containers at select pharmacies throughout Ontario. Search for participating pharmacies by postal code on the HPSA website to find locations close to you. For more information, you can also contact them directly.
Some municipalities have special procedures for dealing with sharps. The City of Toronto, for example, runs a “Toxic Taxi” program that will pick up household hazardous waste, including sharps, from residential and multi-residential properties. The public health unit serving your region should be able to share information about any initiatives that exist in your area.
What to do as a Landlord
You should always have a supply of sharps containers at your buildings. Depending on the nature of your program, it might make sense to have sharps containers placed around the facilities for tenants to use. In other cases, you may want to keep them in restricted staff areas for use only when sharps are found in public areas.
If it comes to your attention that tenants may be disposing of these materials incorrectly within their units, you could help them obtain disposal containers directly and talk to them about how to deal with them when they are full.
This is not just an issue for tenants. You should also be sure to have appropriate disposal facilities to accommodate staff who may be using medical sharps while at work.
Just remember that wherever there are sharps containers in staff or public areas, regular monitoring and replacement should be built into someone’s job responsibilities whether that be maintenance staff, harm reduction workers, or housing workers.