Heavily soiled healthcare linens not 'regulated waste,' OSHA confirms

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Heavily soiled healthcare linens not 'regulated waste,' OSHA confirms
Heavily soiled healthcare linens not 'regulated waste,' OSHA confirms

Long-term care facilities and other healthcare providers are not required to dispose of contaminated linen as “regulated waste,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration clarified in a recent letter.

The letter came in response to queries from the Association for Linen Management and the American Reusable Textile Association. Healthcare laundry operators who belong to these organizations have called attention to the practice of placing heavily soiled linens in red bags, which is a sign to laundry operators that the bag must go to a waste department for disposal.

OSHA's regulatory standard governing regulated waste is not meant to apply to linens that are laundered and reused, according to the agency's letter.

Healthcare providers place linens in red bags out of an understandable desire to control infections, but doing so is unnecessary and costly, ALM Executive Director Linda Fairbanks told McKnight's. The practice leads to hundreds of millions of dollars in annual costs, according to ALM and ARTA.

The practice of unnecessary disposal is most commonly seen in hospital operating rooms but is also an issue in long-term care, Fairbanks said. Facilities might dispose of linen that has been soiled by residents who have Clostridium difficile, she explained. This is because workers believe the infection is so virulent that disposal is the surest way to limit its spread. But this is not the case, according to Fairbanks.

Rather, workers should be sure to place heavily soiled linens in an impermeable bag so that it does not leak on the way to the laundry, she said. Then, the linens can be washed according to the requirements set forth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Click here to view the OSHA letter.

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