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ESG-Oriented Analysis: Med Waste Management in Private Healthcare – Reducing Risks and Liability

ESG-Oriented Analysis: Med Waste Management in Private Healthcare – Reducing Risks and Liability

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For several years, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) standards have increased globally, the EU being a pioneer in the field through the adoption of a significant number of directives and regulations subsequently implemented at Member States’ national level in relation to these three most dynamic letters in today’s business world.

Since ESG-compliance has become one of top management’s focal points, it is safe to assume that no business sector will be left behind in this ever-evolving landscape.

This article explores the benefits of complying with ESG targets in the Romanian private healthcare sector, addressing the implications of med waste management in the context of a growing number of medical malpractice litigation cases and a rising concern for health and safety at workplace.

The “E” target: What are the benefits of proper med waste management?

The healthcare sector’s mission of contributing to better human health is scrutinized by regulators and the public, with the industry facing increasing challenges related to climate change. Therefore, the Environmental pillar should become one of the core values of private healthcare players.

The importance of medical waste management has attained more attention from authorities, with healthcare providers facing significant penalties for improper handling or disposal of such waste.

For example, one of the largest American healthcare providers had to pay tens of millions of dollars for improper disposal of hazardous materials and medical waste, including bodily fluids and syringes. Such items were found to pose a serious risk to healthcare providers and patients who came into contact with them.

In this context, understanding and complying with medical waste regulations is mandatory.

In Romania, Government Decision No. 856/2002 categorizes waste resulting from medical activities, including sharp objects (such as syringe or suture needles and scalpel blades), human fragments and organs, containers holding them, potentially infectious waste in contact with biological fluids (like compresses, surgical drapes, gloves, urine collection bags, and diapers of patients with infectious diseases), expired chemicals and medicines, dental waste, disposable clothing, plaster casts, medicine containers, and diapers.

Private healthcare providers are required to maintain records for each category of hazardous or non-hazardous medical waste, collect it separately, and store it properly in designated areas. These areas must be functionally separated from the medical activity space to prevent waste-related infections.

This practice aligns with both the general waste management framework in Romania (Government Emergency Ordinance No. 92/2021) and specific regulations in the healthcare sector (Ministry of Health Orders No. 1226/2012 and No. 1101/2016).

Adhering to these regulations not only helps avoid significant fines but also reduces the risk of medical malpractice or health and safety litigation claims.

The “S” target: How can improper med waste management lead to medical malpractice or health and safety risks?

The Social factor evaluates not only the outcomes of a private healthcare practice's medical services but also its approach to workplace health and safety. It is essential to address the potential occupational hazards caused by improper medical waste management to ensure the well-being and safety of both patients and healthcare workers.

By taking proactive measures to properly handle and dispose of medical waste, healthcare providers can mitigate the risk of medical malpractice or health and safety litigation. This reduces the likelihood of facing civil or criminal liability for breaching various obligations.

The Law No. 95/2006 on healthcare reform, which defines medical malpractice, outlines cases that lead to various forms of liability for private healthcare practices. These liabilities arise when damage occurs during the activities of prevention, diagnosis, or treatment, particularly if such damage results from nosocomial infections, among other factors.

Poor medical waste management can contribute to the occurrence of nosocomial infections. Pathogens from improperly handled or disposed medical waste may contaminate the hospital environment, facilitating the spread of infectious agents.

Therefore, if patients contract infections during their hospital stay due to negligence in medical waste management, medical malpractice claims could be filed against the healthcare provider. This is especially true if it is determined that the infection directly resulted from the provider's failure to adhere to proper medical waste protocols.

In addition to Law No. 319/2006 on health and safety at work which serves as the core legislation in this field, the Romanian legal framework specifically addresses the situation of workplaces where there is an increased risk of contamination.

Government Decision No. 1092/2006 concerning the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work and Government Decision No. 243/2013 which establishes minimum health and safety requirements for the prevention of injuries caused by sharp objects in the hospital and healthcare sector are examples of such legal instruments. They lay down specific obligations that risk being breached in cases of mishandling or improper disposal of medical waste, leading to potential health and safety litigation claims.

Such obligations include not only the use of means to enable the safe collection, storage, and disposal of waste by workers, where appropriate after treatment, but also the provision, in the vicinity of areas where sharp objects are used in the workplace, of safe, properly marked containers.

The “G” target: Waste time or act?

The Governance aspect of ESG involves implementing and overseeing policies and procedures to ensure responsible and sustainable waste handling and disposal. This includes establishing protocols for waste segregation, adopting proper disposal methods, and conducting continuous monitoring to minimize environmental impact and public health risks, especially in the context of medical waste.

Considering the impact of improper medical waste management on both patients, who directly benefit from medical care, and healthcare workers, top management in the private healthcare sector must proactively embrace ESG principles to remain competitive in today's socially conscious landscape.

With corporate and consumers’ expectations rapidly evolving, safeguarding the reputation and financial interests of private healthcare practices against the complex interplay between ESG standards, waste management regulations, and potential malpractice and health & safety litigation claims requires a dedicated team of lawyers specialized in corporate compliance and risk management. Such professionals must be committed to fostering a sustainable, responsible, and ethically sound future.

In conclusion: Waste no time! act!

By Catalin Apatean, Associate, Act Legal

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