Mitigating the risk

Stericycle focuses on risk management strategies and effective communication when dealing with PPE disposal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Stericycle Inc. knows the importance of evolving to meet the needs of its customers. The Bannockburn, Illinois-based business-to-business waste services company and provider of compliance-based solutions has worked to diversify its offerings over more than three decades in an effort to help its clients deal with their waste-related challenges.

“Since our founding over 30 years ago, we have grown from a small startup in medical waste management into a leader across a range of increasingly complex and highly regulated arenas serving healthcare organizations and commercial businesses of every size,” says Selin Hoboy, vice president of Government Affairs and Compliance at Stericycle.

Presently, Stericycle provides solutions for regulated medical waste management, secure information destruction, compliance, customer contact and brand protection for customers in the U.S. and 18 countries worldwide. The company also offers pharmaceutical waste and controlled substance disposal services as well as sharps management, compliance training, document destruction and information security solutions.

With its foundation in medical waste services, Stericycle jumped at the chance to answer the call when COVID-related cases spiked late in the first quarter. Specifically, the organization worked to develop a special program to reduce the risk of transmission through used personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and commercial businesses.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed a PPE disposal solution to help businesses of all sizes manage the disposal and testing of used PPE to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread within the workplace,” Hoboy says.

The company developed PPE waste pickup and mailback options to help customers dispose of used PPE and testing materials. It also developed destruction services for companies to handle this material in house. Moreover, Hoboy says the company has worked to become a resource for safety best practices for those in the healthcare and commercial sector.

Reducing risk

According to Stericycle, as companies work towards implementing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their work environments, they also need to consider how to dispose of used PPE generated by employees and on-site testing. An important step in addressing the disposal of used PPE is reviewing state guidelines, as some states are creating specific mandates for the industries generating used PPE.

“Out of an abundance of caution, some businesses are opting to classify these materials as regulated medical waste (RMW), which requires a special type of waste container and a specific process for safe and secure disposal and treatment,” Hoboy says.

“As businesses enact more safety precautions, they have also started to question whether or not they should put disposal protocols in place for discarded PPE and testing materials,” Hoboy says. “We are advising companies that this is an extra precaution they can take and recommend following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] and their state, local, tribal and/or territorial health or environmental department(s) to understand the requirements.”

In addition, Hoboy says that organizations should think about partnering with a knowledgeable waste disposal expert to reduce transmission risk in the workplace.

One thing businesses should not do is disregard recommended protocols and requirements in an attempt to return to “business as usual,” Hoboy says.

“The key tactics to slow the spread of the virus—social distancing, hand washing, cleaning and disinfection, wearing PPE (including face coverings) and inquiring of our own team members’ health—should be woven into our daily professional lives just as much as in our personal lives. Companies should follow the ongoing updates to the CDC website, as well as updates from local health authorities who are changing guidelines as necessary to accommodate unique local situations during the pandemic,” Hoboy reports.

While Hoboy says Stericycle employees are already trained to handle dangerous waste, the company has also looked to CDC guidance to inform its policies and procedures.

“Our safety protocols are designed for infectious diseases, which now includes COVID-19 waste. By focusing on our existing protocols and working with our customers to add COVID-19-specific protocols, we are able to best protect our frontline employees and our customers,” Hoboy says.

Open lines of communication

Hoboy says that for Stericycle, effective communication with customers is essential as the company works to navigate challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure effective communication, Stericycle has developed a Coronavirus Knowledge Center which is aimed at educating clients on keeping their operations safe and effective.

According to Hoboy, “proper packaging of waste—both regulated medical waste and solid waste—plays an important role in protecting all of us in the management of waste, from our customers’ employees to waste workers downstream. As a generator, customers need to be aware of not just their state regulations, but also federal regulations.”

Not only does Stericycle encourage companies to familiarize themselves with the state and CDC guidelines, Hoboy says it advocates for adopting stringent policies and workplace practices that encourage and enforce adoption.

Speaking on the need to follow COVID prevention best practices, Hoboy says, “This includes preventing and reducing the transmission among employees by encouraging sick employees to stay home, conducting on-site virtual health checks, conducting regular in-office hazard assessments, modifying work environments to ensure workstations are 6 feet apart and providing PPE and face coverings to prevent the spread of the virus.”

"The key tactics to slow the spread of the virus ... should be woven into our daily professional lives just as much as in our personal lives.” –Selin Hoboy

As the virus continues to serve as a threat to workers, it is critical that organizations conduct open, ongoing communication with their teams in order to protect employees and customers.

Within the company, Stericycle has put in place protective safety measures for its drivers and frontline staff including making proper face coverings and PPE available to all team members, staggering employee shifts to promote social distancing, dedicating trucks to specific drivers to reduce the chance of exposure and virus spread, and implementing more rigorous cleaning protocols for all facilities and trucks.

In regard to customer and employee interaction, Hoboy adds, “We have worked directly with our customers to adapt protocols and procedures, particularly for in-hospital services or circumstances where our teams have to enter customer locations [to keep everyone safe].”

For those customers who might not be adhering to these guidelines, Stericycle has empowered its employees to refuse service. Hoboy says Stericycle team members are authorized to deny pick up from its customers who are not following its waste acceptance protocols or packaging guidelines.

In addition to Stericycle’s Coronavirus Knowledge Center, which is aimed at keeping businesses informed of proper safety protocols, Stericycle has held multiple webinars to provide further information on waste management best practices during COVID-19.

Although staying vigilant in communicating and enforcing COVID safety best practices requires ample diligence on the part of respective companies, Hoboy says helping workers do their jobs so they can go home safe every day is what it’s all about.

“Providing employees with training, updating employees about new protocols and explaining safety measures to employees will give them the confidence to do their job safely every day,” Hoboy says.

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