Jack worked in the hospital maintenance department, and when he saw the old lab refrigerator sitting on the loading dock waiting to be disposed of, he came up with an idea. That night he and his friend picked up the refrigerator from the hospital and moved it to their hunting cabin where they would use it to store drinks and meat. Three years later, Jack could not help his doctor figure out where he contracted Hepatitis B.

Laura ran the physician office lab, and she was excited to be getting her new hematology analyzer. The instrument representative finished all of the necessary validations and the new instrument was ready to run. At the end of a busy day Laura just wanted to get the old instrument out of her space, so she started to dismantle it in order to pack it up to send away. She opened the front of the analyzer to remove the tubing, and when she did that, residual blood splashed into her eyes. Since the blood was from an unknown source, Laura had to submit to an unpleasant treatment of prophylactic drugs.

The decommissioning of laboratory equipment or instruments should be a formalized process to prepare the devices for their safe transport, reuse, or disposal. The process of decommissioning equipment will vary depending on the type involved, but understanding that these appliances were in use in a biohazard environment is important. Mishandling or misuse of decommissioned materials can have serious safety and health consequences.

No lab equipment should ever be moved to a clean area for use such as food heating or storage, even if the unit has been decontaminated. Wiping out a refrigerator with bleach, for example, does not ensure that all potential contaminants have been removed. The purpose of decontaminating decommissioned lab equipment is to make it safe for those who may transport, dismantle, or dispose of it. Remember, for lab equipment, the potential sources of contamination vary, and they can be biological, hazardous (chemical), or even radioactive.

Decontaminate instruments or equipment per the manufacturer’s recommendations, and be sure to utilize PPE to protect yourself from any potential exposure. If you are unsure how to begin the decontamination process, contact the vendor for assistance. Often, they will perform this process for you. Be sure to remove any biohazard warning labels once equipment is decontaminated and removed from the laboratory. If a refrigerator is cleaned and placed into a dumpster, the facility could receive a hefty fine if the unit is found in a landfill with biohazard labels still attached. If instrumentation cannot be decontaminated internally, maintain any hazard warning labels and work with the manufacturer closely to determine proper disposal methods.

If instrumentation is being removed from the lab setting, be sure to remove patient information as well. Personal health information must be protected, and this is an important step when device decommissioning occurs. Be sure to save any patient data you may need from that instrument in the future.

Both Jack and Laura learned very difficult lessons that could have been avoided. Those who work in the maintenance department (or other areas) may not understand the dangers of lab biohazards, so it is the responsibility of the lab to educate and communicate so that exposure incidents like Jack’s are avoided. Laura was excited about her new instrument, but she was uninformed about the proper dismantling and decommissioning of the old equipment. It’s an important safety issue, and it can affect staff in the lab, in other areas, and ultimately, in the public arena. Educate staff, and always consider the need for the safe discharge of equipment and instrumentation so that the devices-and not the people-are decommissioned.

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