Have you ever seen the aftermath of an annual workplace first aid kit audit and re-stock? It’s quite astonishing because almost everything in a kit these days has a use-by date, and it is law in Australia that everything in a workplace first aid kit be in date.
After looking at everything that came out of a kit after only one year, a few friends and I were having trouble understanding how bandages, band-aids, and pads go out of date, so I asked St John’s Ambulance who audit and restock the kits to explain. They said “after a certain time, bandages go yellow and they aren’t as sterile anymore. Band-aids become less sticky and so do combine and non-adherent pads, etc.”
But it still seemed so wasteful, especially as no products were yellowing or losing stickiness and weren’t very old, so I asked if the stock was appropriate for some other purpose. This is the response I got:
“When our sales rep restocks a kit at a workplace, the out of date stock that is bought back to the office is donated in some way. Our Event Health Services (volunteers) use it for training. We often donate to the RSPCA in Canberra and another animal shelter in Sydney. We sent a lot to Nepal after their earthquake and a work colleague is going to the Philippines early next year to help out with medical procedures in remote areas for families that are unable to get to hospitals or purchase medical supplies.
Alternatively, staff at these workplaces can take some home for personal use.”
Initially, I thought this was a good response but then I felt uneasy about sending things deemed not good enough for us, to people in other parts of the world. Surely, if the items are good enough for overseas aid, they are good enough for all people. So, I asked St. John’s Ambulance to respond to that. The response was:
“We remove it from kits and send the out of date stock to under developed countries and animal shelters because it is law in Australia that everything in a workplace first aid kit is in date. This is WH&S Code of Practice. Anyone with a kit at home for personal use can use any of the items out of date. The only risk there is really, is that the items may not be as sterile as it was when it was packaged.”
They also answered my question about how saline solution can go off with this: “The saline is ok to use after expiry. Companies that produce/make saline are required by law to have an expiry date on the product.”
So it seems it’s safe to use out of date first aid supplies for personal use rather than throw them away. But to be sure, here are some responses from medical professionals.
This, from an ambulance officer:
“Yes we would use out of date items at home no problem. Have always had old, sometimes yellowed old, items for home use thanks to my parents having a first aid business growing up.
I am often troubled by this when checking expiry dates on items at work and having to discard them. It’s difficult to find uses for them or places that can take them, and we only need so many for training.
Tammy, if you have a suggestion for passing items on somewhere they can be used then there’s nothing precluding that from happening in my workplace. There used to be someone at work who sent things overseas periodically but that doesn’t seem to have continued, I’m unsure why, but the sheer quantity i suspect might have been a contributing factor. I’d be happy to facilitate a collection box. The items we discard, such as ETT tubes, syringes, needles and other emergency care items simply don’t have a place for home use.
This from a theatre nurse:
“re sterility: I’m a theatre nurse with lots of experience relating to sterility.
1- something is either sterile or not sterile, there are no “levels” of sterility
2- sterility is event related, not date related. If the package is intact, with no damage, and the item has been stored properly (eg no exposure to sunlight, water or condensation), then the item is deemed sterile. As long as the item does not deteriorate (eg latex and rubber can breakdown) then there is no use-by date. The item is still sterile until opened. This does not apply to medications, antiseptics or lotions. They will have a use by date
3. All the hospitals I have worked in follow A/NZ Standard for sterilization 4187 and the ACORN standards
4. Stuff like bandaids and stretchy bandages can begin to deteriorate over time. They will remain sterile subject to the above conditions, but they may not be very sticky or stretchy.“
If you’d like to read all the comments, check out the facebook post below.
Would you use out of date first aid stock? I have been.
Also, please put in the comments any details of groups or organisations you know who could use out of date first aid supplies so that we can hook people up and redirect as much waste as possible. Thanks in advance.