The ABCs of RMW by Christopher Aston

Red bags are designated for regulated medical waste (RMW). Most laboratory personnel understand that sharp objects that could puncture a red bag must be discarded into a sharps container, as opposed to a red bag. The somewhat narrow regulatory definition identifies RMW as cultures of infectious materials, human tissues/fluids and blood-saturated items; essentially materials that are handled at biosafety level-2 (BSL-2). Currently, Columbia University takes a broader approach in that waste contaminated with organisms that are handled at BSL-1 is also treated as RMW.

To ensure the safety and comfort of Columbia Facilities workers who handle municipal (clear bag) waste, and to reduce confusion among laboratory personnel in segregating biomedical waste based on the agents that may be in it, all such waste is generally best managed as RMW. Furthermore, material that looks “medical” in nature (e.g., petri dishes of food for Drosophila melanogaster) is also currently handled as RMW.
Laboratory personnel must be judicious about what they put into RMW waste receptacles (i.e., red bags and sharps containers) since it is significantly more costly to dispose of RMW than municipal waste. Packaging materials (e.g., cardboard and Styrofoam, media bottles etc.) and paper towels for hand washing are not to be placed in RMW receptacles, but rather discarded as municipal waste (clear bag).

The University’s RMW policy (http://ehs.columbia.edu/RMWpolicy.pdf) is a valuable resource for laboratory personnel and describes in detail how to appropriately dispose of these biomedical materials. For more information, contact biosafety@columbia.edu

Open the LATCH by Tasha Hightower

In 2013, EH&S launched the Laboratory Assessment Tool and Chemical Hygiene Plan (LATCH), an electronic tool created to assist laboratories in preparing a Chemical Hygiene Plan in accordance with OSHA’s Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories standard (aka, the “Lab Standard”).

The LATCH is a complement to the University’s Chemical Hygiene Plan (http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/Policy1.1.html) and is designed to identify the hazards that may be encountered within each laboratory and the appropriate control measures to prevent exposures. During 2012-13 laboratory safety surveys, the EH&S Research Safety Team worked with laboratories to complete the LATCH.

Providing a safe and compliant work environment is everyone's responsibility. EH&S supports the University’s safety culture through the development of guidance documents and tools for the research community to simplify and streamline the myriad safety and environmental requirements established by various government regulations, as well as accreditation and grant funding entities.

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