The “Ins & Outs” of Sharps Disposal Containers

Proper handling of sharps can prevent injury and reduce the risk of infection. All of us use sharps containers on a daily basis. As long as we have a container to dispose of our sharps we are in compliance, right? Well, maybe. There are four main criteria for the safe usage of sharps disposal containers: functionality, accessibility, visibility and accommodation.

1. Functionality refers to the containers remaining functional during their usage. The containers should be durable, and puncture resistant. The sides and bottom must be leak proof. Sharps containers must be closable by means of a lid, flap or door or other closing device under normal use imposed during storage, handling and transport within the facility. However, sharps disposal containers are not typically designed for high and low temperature conditions. So it is not recommended to place/store them inside a cold chamber such as a cryostat or place them in an oven or on a hotplate.

2. Accessibility means having easy access to the waste container in order to permit the safe disposal of sharps. The opening should be easy to operate and be designed to minimize any catching or snagging of items placed in the container. The sharps disposal containers should be placed within arms reach with no obstacles between the site of use and the container. The containers should also be placed below eye level of 95% of adult female workers. The disposal device opening should be identifiable and accessible to the user and should facilitate one-handed disposal. The sharps container should be maintained in an upright position during use with no danger of being knocked over or spilled. The placement of sharps containers, as well as the measures used to maintain them in an upright position during use, must be based on the site-specific hazard assessment of the area of intended use.

3. Visibility refers to the container being easily recognizable as a hazard. The color of the container (red) and /or the hazard warning label should imply danger and be visible to the user. The fill capacity of the container should be easily observable by the user and there should be sufficient lighting to determine if any sharp objects are protruding from the container. The containers should be replaced routinely and not over filled. Sharps containers must be closed before disposal to prevent spillage. A secondary container appropriately labeled or color-coded and constructed to contain all contents can be used if there is a chance of leakage from the primary sharps container. Containment must prevent leakage during handling, storage, transport, or shipping.

4. Accommodation is a measurement of ease of assembly, operation and storage. Containers should be simple to use and manufacturers should provide recommended user training information. Sharps disposal containers that are reusable must not be opened, emptied, or cleaned manually in any manner that would expose workers to the risk of sharps injury.


  1. OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard 29 CFR 1910.1030, sect.(g)(1)(I)(C) &(E)
  2. OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard 29 CFR 1910.1030, sect.(d)(4)(iii)(A)
  3. FDA 21 CFR 860.3 Class III medical devices

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