Ask the expert: Sharps container disposal height

By: July 2nd, 2010 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: What is the OSHA regulation height for sharps disposal containers?

A: OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard section (d)(4)(iii)(A)(2)(i) does not specify height, only that sharps disposal containers must be “Easily accessible to personnel and located as close as is feasible to the immediate area where sharps are used or can be reasonably anticipated…”

Employers can determine accessibility by referring to the NIOSH document Selecting, Evaluating, and Using Sharps Disposal Containers.

Healthcare workers should be able to view the entire opening of the sharps disposal container while comfortably  standing within arm’s reach.

NIOSH provides an ergonomically ideal formula by establishing the eye-level height, maximum thumb tip reach of the worker population, and including a drop angle drop 15 degrees (see illustration below).

All of which is a fancy way of saying that sharps disposal container height should be:

  • Standing workstation: 52 to 56 inches above the standing surface of the user
  • Seated workstation: 38 to 42 inches above the floor on which the chair rests

These height installation suggestions will “comfortably accommodate 95% of all adult female workers,” according to NIOSH.

Source: Selecting, Evaluating, and Using Sharps Disposal Containers, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-111.


By Phyllis Fisher on July 8th, 2010 at 9:26 am

This doesn’t take into effect sharp containers that are attached to the side of the med carts. Top of med cart doesn’t seem to be practable due to the limited space on the working surface.

By David LaHoda on July 8th, 2010 at 1:32 pm

You are correct as the advice applies to wall mounted or fixed container placements. For sharps disposal containers on carts you should still follow NIOSH recommendations from the document referenced in the post above:

–Accessibility: Containers should be accessible to workers who use, maintain, or dispose of sharp devices. Containers should be conveniently placed and (if necessary) portable within the workplace.

–Visibility: Containers should be plainly visible to the workers who use them. Workers should be able to see the degree to which the container is full, proper warning labels, and color coding.

–Accommodation: Container designs should be accommodating or convenient for the user and the facility, and they should be environmentally sound (e.g., free of heavy metals and composed of recycled materials). Accommodation also includes ease of storage and assembly and simplicity of operation.

Also, not all sharps disposal containers are appropriate for use on carts, especially if the container’s doors or closings do not guard against accidental spillage as OSHA makes clear in the interpretation letter: “The applicability of OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standards to the use of sharps containers on hospital crash carts.”

do the large sharps containers (size of a trash can) have to be wall mounted or can they be on the floor if there is no danger of them tipping over?

By David LaHoda on July 27th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Your situation, as described, is complaint with OSHA.

What about large sized sharps container used in lab. Is it allowed to be on the floor and not mounted?

By David LaHoda on November 22nd, 2011 at 3:07 pm

My response above would apply to lab settings, too.

Can sharps containers be mounted under a cabinet if there is enough room for visibilty and disposal?

Hello Lenae-

Managing Editor Will Kilburn here. One of our experts, Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP) SLS, a laboratory safety expert based in Williamsburg, Va., says:

“There should be no issues with mounting a sharps container under a cabinet, provided there is adequate space to properly use the container safely and it can be removed easily when full. Also, the tasks for which a sharps container are needed should be considered. Make sure the container is near the location where sharps are disposed so that no one is carrying sharps for long distances.”

Let me know if this answers your question, Will

By Craig A. Perez on March 22nd, 2013 at 8:56 pm

My 3 year old daughter who is 37″ inches tall was with my wife at the dermatoligist and while my wife was answering questions from the assistant my daughter had reached into a sharps container and grabbed a used needle/syringe out of the container and put it in her mouth. The needle was capped. The top of the container was anywhere from 25-30 inches off the floor attached to a cabinet. We do not know if all the needles inside were capped. The doctor looked for puncture wounds and did not see any, regardless, is there or should there be an installation regulation?

By Craig A. Perez on March 22nd, 2013 at 9:03 pm

My 3 year old daughter who is 37 inches tall was with my wife at the dermatologist and while my wife was answering questions from the assistant my daughter had reached into a sharps container and grabbed a syringe and had the capped needle end in her mouth. The top of the container was 25-30 inches off the floor. The doctor checked for puncture wounds but did not find any. Regardless, is there or should there be a height requirement for installing a sharps container and should I file a complaint?

By Hope Goodwin on July 24th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

In light of the information regarding sharps container placement, I’m hoping the same applies to wall-mounted blood-pressure monitors, as I’ve received a request to relocate all of them on one of our patient-care wings. Does anyone have any resources they’d suggest for this type of info?

By ELIZABETH MALCAMPO on August 1st, 2013 at 5:29 pm

My greetings of peace.
Im an INfection Control Nurse in a 100-bedded capacity peripheral hospital. Im preparing policies and proceDUre specially for accreditation this september. sharp container in hemodialysis unit is kept on the floor(one for each machine).Request done for brackets,can you SUGGEST/ILLUSTRATE SUITABLE SAMPLE FOR ME ..THANKS SO MUCH

By ELIZABETH MALCAMPO on August 1st, 2013 at 5:32 pm

can i ask from you sample of stand bracket illustration or picture to use in our hemodialysis unit (one sahrp container every machine).Im an Infection Control Coordinator preparing our hospital for accreditation this september2013..THANKS FOR THE GREAT HELP

is it acceptable that a sharps bin is wall mounted but i cannot see into the top of it as to high and i have to reach across wide table on tiptoes to dispose of used needle while working as a phlebotomist in a doctors surgery for my trust, due to position of the sharps bin I have sustained a needle stick injury as needle spun round on top and went into my finger

Who is in charge of making sure a facility (in this case a residential drug rehab facility)is OSHA compliant when it comes to Sharps Containers and their upkeep, maintenance and placement in the State of Florida? Are there any certifications that must be earned in order to comply and /or understand the OSHA regulations?

By M McDonell on April 3rd, 2014 at 3:56 pm

What about horizontal drop sharps containers. Can they be mounted a little higher than the typical vertical drop containers since you do not need to view the ‘top’ of the container to place the needle?
Does the height change for public restrooms?

By david luscavage on May 8th, 2014 at 6:46 pm

When does a table top sharps container or sharps container used on a table top need to be braced or fixed to prevent inadvertent movement and potential needlestick?

If a sharps container that is not 3/4 full be closed moved and then re-opened for use if it’s not 3/4 full. Please provide a reference to your answer.

When using a small red sharps container, is it to be properly disposed of when it is full or can the sharps be poured into a larger sharps container?

By Alyssa Serle on September 1st, 2015 at 9:43 pm

To avoid injury and spreading of infections that can cause serious health conditions where in most common infections are Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), we must dispose our sharp objects properly.The containers you need to safely and securely dispose of scalpels, needles, syringes and other medical waste will be provided, and serviced to provide you with convenience and peace of mind.

Impact Hygiene – Sharps

By Abeer Malkawi on May 26th, 2016 at 4:00 am

My question is : whats the duration to dispose the sharp container even if its still below 3/4 .
e.g: the sharp container is opened and used since 2 months and still very below 3/4 is it acceptable , and what the proper time to replace.
Best regards

is it legal to install open top sharps containers in public bathrooms . it is my understanding that it has to concealed access or mail box type .

By Dr. Pereira on August 23rd, 2016 at 9:03 am

can someone shed light on the supporting documentation / rationale/ legislation based on which sharps containers should be disposed every 3 months even if not full.

is it legal to install them in a public restroom? also where is the best place to install a wall mounted unit at?

Is there a standard for the sharps containers in pediatric settings? Should they be higher?

By Stuart Jones on July 19th, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Does Mount Sharps height exceed its cradle walls on Mars

the mounting height seems to be in conflict with the ADA mounting heights. Since the sharps containers are not in staff work areas (by definition), the unobstructed maximum height is 48″ to the top or operable part of the container. Hospital staff say this is too low. Is there an ADA exception for sharps containers?


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