Veolia Australia and New Zealand’s proactive approach to clinical waste management has been recognised with an Above and Beyond award from SA Health.
Following the global implementation of exceptional measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, Veolia activated business continuity plans to ensure the supply of quality services.
“Veolia’s mission is to deliver essential services on a daily basis,” Veolia Group CEO Antoine Frérot said in March 2020.
“During this period, our mission is even more vital because requirements are even greater. We are fully mobilised to continue to serve you.”
For the Australian and New Zealand arm of the company, supply continuity of critical products and services was highlighted as a key priority, with Veolia working proactively with suppliers to ensure minimal disruption.
While critical across all sectors, for Veolia’s healthcare and clinical waste teams, significant spikes in volumes and collections required an approach which focused on customer engagement, operational flexibility and strict compliance.
In South Australia (SA), Veolia’s Healthcare and Operations team saw a 10 per cent increase in waste volume’s week-on-week for five weeks straight in the early stages of the pandemic response.
Veolia’s approach demonstrated agility – working around the clock, increasing collection services from 11 to 16 times a week for some hospitals in Adelaide Metro, and ensuring that all stakeholders were briefed on required PPE, disposal controls and the classification of waste streams.
This adaptability gave SA Health peace of mind that this critical element of their operations was handled expertly, even naming the Veolia team the recipient of their Above and Beyond Award in late 2020.
“When COVID-19 came through SA, we were largely on the front foot with SA Health,” Kelly Bras, Veolia Waste Treatment Manager SA, says.
“We had good communication and provided detailed instructions for consistent and compliant bin labelling to ensure we could focus on COVID waste streams, whilst operating our business as usual services.”
As the pandemic saw patient and testing numbers grow, Veolia SA increased its bin processing by 50 per cent during peak demand, and also placed orders for thousands of extra medical waste bins.
“The lead time on those bins is quite significant, so we had to forecast where SA Health was going to be in three to four weeks’ time so we could ensure we could scale our bin supply to meet the changing demand,” Bras says.
“We also worked with our suppliers to ensure we had chlorine detergents and sanitisers available. We made sure we had a couple of months supply, so if we had items coming in from overseas that were impacted by supply chain disruptions it wasn’t going to impact our service.”
Additionally, Bras explains that as Veolia’s bins in SA go through an automated chlorine based washing and sanitisation process, the company worked with SA Health to implement additional control measures.
“There was also a need to look at scenario planning for an expansion of hospital and clinic services in the event of swift escalation of patient numbers. Veolia again readied themselves for this potential upgrade in frequency and services as part of emergency and contingency planning in alignment with SA Health.”
Bras credits Veolia’s success to a whole of team approach, with everyone from drivers, operators and business development managers working flexibly and efficiently.
“When SA Health wanted to implement something new, we had already envisioned and planned for that and had the necessary agility to respond quickly,” he says.
When SA went into a sharp lock down in November last year, for example, Bras says Veolia saw a another 40 per cent spike in bin numbers.
“We had put the hard work into critical response planning, so our preparedness paid off as we were able to scale as needed.” he says.
“This approach has been central to building trust with our major clients such as SA Health, and ensuring they can get on with focusing on their critical pandemic response.”
VACCINE WASTE MANAGEMENT
With Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine now approved for use in Australia, Tim Lee, Veolia Health National Sales and Business Development Manager, says Veolia is expecting to see clinical waste generation increase in line with volumes seen during mass testing.
“The critical element will be short-turn arounds and rapid increases. As facilities such as general practice, hospitals and pharmacies gear up for vaccine roll-out, we expect to see demand for secure clinical waste collection and disposal ramp up quickly,” he says.
Lee explains that Veolia’s learnings when supporting clinical waste customers, across all states, have shown that effective supply chains, resource and equipment scalability, will once again be the critical piece.
“We are forward planning and ensuring constant and ongoing communication with our customers to ensure we can help,” he says.
While the vaccine roll-out will be unprecedented in terms of scale, Lee says Veolia will draw on the approach it took when managing waste at pop-up clinics, as well as its experience with aged care facilities.
“We’re already talking to our customers. Some have an awareness of what the roll out will entail, but others are unsure of what their level of involvement will look like.”
Lee adds that each facility will have unique requirements.
“Aged care facilities typically haven’t had to deal with large volumes of clinical waste before. The experience in NSW will be different from that in Victoria, where they did have significant outbreaks and will therefore be more prepared,” he says.
“It’s all about close consultation and understanding the pinch points – where are you going to store the clinical waste? What will be the frequency of bin pick-ups?
“Everything is moving quickly, and as we have heard so many times, things can change week-to-week, even day-to-day, so it’s important that we are proactive and ready our customers for the expected volumes of clinical waste to be generated, so that together we can effectively plan for safe, compliant and cost-effective solutions.”
According to Lee, education will be central to ensuring a streamlined process. He adds that in SA, Veolia is already highlighting the separation of needles and PPE from vaccine vials to ensure streamlined incineration.
“Veolia has extensive experience in supporting waste generated from flu-vaccine campaigns, the greatest variance in this instance is the scale, not the collection and or disposal process,” he says.
“Veolia is confident that we will manage the vaccine waste correctly and treat it as pharmaceutical waste.”
Lee, who also serves as Chair of the National Biohazard Waste Industry committee, adds that while there are always opportunities to do things differently, when managing clinical waste safety must be the first priority.
“I want to see every opportunity taken to divert waste from landfill, or avoid its creation in the first place, but that cannot be at the cost of safety,” he says.
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