Next in Initial Medical’s clinical waste colour coding blog series, it’s important to be whiter than white…
An inherently positive colour, white is associated with purity, innocence, light, goodness, wholeness and faith. In some settings it is also a sign of cleanliness, protection and safety. The colour white aids mental clarity, evokes thoughts of purification and fresh beginnings and encourages simplicity and the removal of clutter.
With regards to light, white contains an equal balance of all colours in the spectrum, which separate and become visible only when the light is shone through a prism. White clothing is often donned by healthcare professionals in the clinical setting to highlight cleanliness and efficiency, and being totally reflective, it is often the colour of choice in hot climates. A white flag is also the universal symbol for surrender and a truce, while a white dove is widely recognised as a sign of peace.
In Western culture, a bride would traditionally wear a white dress on her wedding day to symbolise purity and bring luck to the marriage. It is also considered by some sources as the safest car colour as it is easy to see against the black road.[i]
In places like Peru and Japan, the colour white is associated with angels, good health and time. In many Asian cultures including China, India and Japan, it is linked to death and mourning.
With regards to clinical waste segregation and disposal, white is also the colour designated to dental-specific waste such as amalgam and dental study models. Separate containers are available from Initial Medical to segregate and safely store toxic amalgam-contaminated items and non-hazardous unwanted study models.
These different waste streams need to be segregated further due to the different deposal methods used. Amalgam releases low levels of mercury vapour, which has been associated with adverse effects in the brain and kidneys when high exposure is detected. In order to protect staff, patients and the general public from potential harm, all amalgam waste is separated and stored in sealed containers to await appropriate disposal. Regarding the study models, these are made from gypsum – this was banned from normal landfill in 2009 as it can produce sulphide gas when mixed with biodegradable waste in landfill. It is therefore distinguished as high sulphate waste and must be disposed of separately.
For all professionals coming into contact with and handling clinical waste, it is essential that they understand the regulations and are comfortable with the colour coding system, as recommended by the Department of Health. To ensure their competency and encourage effective waste segregation and disposal, it’s important to facilitate training to provide all new staff members with the appropriate information and guidance. According to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, staff should also be made aware of the risks to their health in association with the substances they might be handling, with information on any recommended precautionary measures. The use of visible posters and easily accessible written guidelines is beneficial as well, carefully located in appropriate areas around the premises to remind staff of the correct procedures. Similar posters or flyers can be used as a reference tool regarding the colour coding system too, clearly demonstrating which colour should be assigned to which type of waste.
Following on from the initial induction, ongoing training should be implemented to refresh and reinforce understanding of the colour coding system, covering any updated or new regulations. Particularly when disposing of waste colour coded white – some of which might contain toxic substances – refreshment and enforcement of the regulations is paramount to the safety of all staff and indeed patients or customers. Resources such as the myMedical platform from Initial Medical can be very helpful here, providing all the information, guidance, regulations and audit protocols you could need.
A policy for the safe management and disposal of clinical waste cannot be truly effective unless it is applied thoroughly, consistently and universally – this requires thorough training and on-going opportunities for staff to refresh and update their knowledge. Make sure you stay whiter than white!