Since the global outbreak of Covid-19, the focus on hygiene and controlling the spread of infection has taken centre stage. The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has been refocusing its attention on the improvement of its services to assist in the national fight against this pandemic and any other hygiene matters. The collection and disposal of hazardous waste is a critical focus area that requires greater self-regulation by the industry, increased vigilance and insistence on the use of certified containers by authorities.
“Hazardous waste is any waste that has the potential to threaten the health and safety of our communities and the environment. Once medical products have been used they need to be contained and disposed of in a controlled manner to ensure that there is no leakage, spillage or dispersion that could be detrimental. While the focus, during this Covid-19 pandemic, has largely been on the detection and prevention of infection, there needs to be increased vigilance on the containment and disposal of all medical waste products,” says Jodi Scholtz, Lead Administrator of SABS.
Scholtz explains that the end-to-end handling process of containing and disposing of hazardous waste must be guided by the various existing national standards and quality management systems. In addition, independent and accredited authorities, such as the SABS, can offer verification and certification that hazardous waste is being handled, contained and disposed of responsibly and without threat to people, fauna, flora and the environment.
“While there are several specifications and regulations that guide the use, containment, transport and disposal of hazardous waste – there is no overarching independent verification of the overall process. Various service providers are involved at different stages of the process and there is a need for tighter controls of the overall process. Even though discussions are in progress with various regulatory stakeholders, all industries that are responsible for the disposal of hazardous materials and of its packaging or used products need to insist that service providers are using certified containers. If self-regulation within the industry becomes more robust, there will be a reduced need for additional strain on regulatory authorities to enforce compliance,” says Scholtz.
The SABS has been testing packaging and containers, which are used for the removal of hazardous waste since 2005, and we have a dedicated and operational packaging laboratory. The SABS is also able to offer inspection services to all spheres of government and the private medical industry to ensure that the containment, collection and disposal of hazardous waste is performed according to accepted national standards.
The first global recommendations for the transportation of dangerous goods was developed and published by the United Nations (UN) in 1956. Since then a number of governments across the globe have adopted versions of the UN recommendations as their national regulation. The UN recommendations have undergone various revisions with the 21st edition being published in 2019. The recommendations include legislation and regulations for the transportation of dangerous goods, the testing and criteria to be performed on the goods and the technical information about the testing of products.
In South Africa, the UN recommendations have been included as a South African National Standard (SANS), namely SANS 10229-1: Transport of dangerous goods — Packaging and large packaging for road and rail transport. The first version of SANS 10229-1 was published in 2005, with a subsequent revision in 2010. SANS 452: Non-reusable and reusable sharps containers, includes UN recommendations and is also referenced in the regulation by the Department of Transport (DoT).
The UN recommendations and SANS 10229-1 have been included in regulation which falls under the mandate of the Department of Transport. The DoT requires that containers used to transport hazardous and medical waste must be tested and that the transporters also carry a certificate that ensures that the medical waste containers have been tested. These certificates are valid for a period of 12 months, effective from the date of the test. Please note that any accredited testing authority may conduct tests and issue certificates, however SABS is the laboratory of choice for most of the clients in this industry.
About the SABS testing processes
The container requirements include some material and construction requirements but also performance testing is required. The package testing is based on the packing group (hazard level) of the contents, the quantity of material, and the type of container.
Some of the common test methods include drop tests to ensure that the contents do not spill or distort, water absorption tests to ensure that the packaging is resistant, tests to validate the integrity of the packaging in various conditions and compression tests to ensure that when packaging is stacked it can retain its integrity. Needle penetration tests will be applicable to any medical waste packaging.
Potential loopholes in the current certification of packaging for the disposal of hazardous medical waste:
- Manufacturers supply their own samples for testing. This is problematic as there is no indication or verification of the production processes. It is possible that a ‘golden sample’ is prepared for testing and subsequent reproductions are not subject to the same processes;
- There is no regulation that guides the resale of tested products. For example a company that manufactures substandard products can resell to others and these products threaten the health and safety of the country;
- The use of the containers is currently unregulated and lacks any sort of inspection services. Inspection needs to include the storage of these containers of hazardous waste while awaiting transportation for disposal and the disposal processes themselves.
It is incredibly dangerous to our communities, our water supply and our environment if medical and hazardous waste is handled, transported and disposed of irresponsibly. There are standards and processes that can be applied to each step in the collection and disposal of hazardous waste. The SABS has the capability and expertise to assist regulators in ensuring full compliance to regulation to ensure the continued safety of our people and our resources.
The SABS Mark Scheme, commonly referred to as ‘SABS Approved’, is a certification scheme that provides confidence in the quality of the products and the production processes to manufacture the product. Samples are collected from the production facility and retail outlets (where relevant), over different periods in a 3 year cycle by the SABS to ensure that quality products are produced all the time.
The SABS can assist in additional certification schemes to ensure that hazardous waste is disposed in a responsible and a safe method from all companies involved, such as:
- Unannounced inspection services to ensure that requirements are being adhered to at all times in the disposal of hazardous waste;
- Assist companies to achieve SANS/ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System certification to ensure that all environmental aspects and impacts are being identified related the hazardous waste and constantly monitored and maintained to ensure compliance;
- Assist companies to achieve SANS/ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHS) certification, where all related hazards and risks shall be identified to improve the occupational health & safety of all persons affected by the company’s activities.
Unannounced inspections coupled with certification to SANS/ISO 14001 and SANS/ISO 45001 will ensure that all companies will meet the required statutory and regulatory requirements for the disposal of hazardous waste.