Healthcare facilities are reliant on their human waste management system working effectively. Human waste can be infectious, so there must be a system in place to dispose of it quickly and safely, limiting any potential for cross-infection.

If you are using a bedpan washer, a machine breakdown could have serious consequences. Leaving soiled bedpans to pile up in your sluice room while repairs and maintenance take place poses a huge infection risk.

Instead, you will need to resort to an alternative method of human waste disposal, but not all methods are practical when trying to reduce infection rates.

Single-use pulp container for patient care

Using an alternative sluice room – the risks

If you work in a large medical facility with multiple sluice rooms, you could use a washer disinfector on a different ward. Whilst this is a simple solution, there are infection control issues, as well as efficiency concerns that you need to consider.

Asking your team to carry soiled bedpans and utensils to a sluice room further away from their patients increases their exposure to contaminated waste, whilst also increasing the risk of spillages. This can pose an infection risk to both the healthcare professional and the patients around them.

If you do decide to use an alternative sluice room, it is important to consider ways to reduce the risk of contamination when travelling from ward to ward. Spillages can be prevented by using a body-fluid spill kit to stabilize waste into an easily transportable, semi-solid gel. Exposure to contaminated waste could also be lessened by using a lid to cover the container and its contents. 

Another concern with using a sluice room in an adjacent ward is the additional time needed. Healthcare professionals time is precious, so it is important to consider how this lost time could affect the amount of time they have available to care for their patients.

Washing reusable items by hand – the dangers

An alternative option that some facilities resort to is cleaning reusable containers by hand. This poses several infection control issues for patients and staff that you should carefully consider.

Cleaning used plastic bedpans and urinals by hand significantly increases healthcare workers exposure to potentially harmful pathogens. To remove human waste from the container, you need to use a high-pressure tap or wand, which can lead to splash back of potentially infectious matter onto the professionals clothing and skin.

High-pressure tools can also lead to aerosolisation of hazardous microorganisms which then contaminate the surrounding environment. These aerosols can remain present in the air for a long period of time, increasing the risk of transmitting harmful infections.  

It is also important to consider the conditions needed to successfully kill or denature bacteria. Temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius will kill bacteria, however it is not possible to achieve this high temperature when manually washing containers. Chemicals can be used as a safety measure, however these need to be used in the correct proportions to ensure the formulation is effective in killing any microorganisms. Bacteria that is not successfully removed, could then be transmitted to the next patient using the same reusable container. 

These hazards could result in a HAI outbreak and localised lock-down, which carries financial implications as well as a compromise on patient safety. It is therefore crucial to carefully consider the implications before asking your team to wash items by hand.

Using disposable containers – the safest alternative

The final option available is to keep a supply of single-use disposable containers. These can be used instead of reusable items in the event of a catastrophic breakdown, to reduce the disruption to your team. Once a single-use container has been used, it can be disposed of in clinical waste bags stored in your sluice room, before being collected by a medical waste disposal company.

From an infection control standpoint, this is a much safer option as it reduces the handling of infectious material, whilst also ensuring, a brand-new disposable container is available for every patient, eliminating the risk of infection from using improperly disinfected items.

Whilst this solution is still not as sanitary as disposing of the single-use items in hospital macerators, it is a good short-term solution that will help your facility control infection and ensure your teams productivity is not compromised.

Nurse selecting a single-use disposable urinal and body fluid spill kit.

Single-use female urinal and body-fluid spill kit

It is becoming increasingly important that every facility has a plan in place in case of a washer disinfector breakdown, in order to minimise the spread of infection across different wards.

If you require further advice on switching to disposables or an alternative system for human waste management or urgent assistance due to equipment breakdown in your sluice room, our team of experts are available to help. 

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