Bloodborne Pathogens: Be safe, not sorry

Bloodborne Pathogens

By Barb Zuehlke

Every day can be a challenge, but some days the challenges might be life-threatening. And because of those days, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created regulation 29 CFR 1910.1030 regarding bloodborne pathogens.
OSHA determined that employees face a significant health risk due to occupational exposure to blood and other infectious materials as they may contain bloodborne pathogens.

Pathogens include HBV which causes hepatitis B; human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); hepatitis C virus; human T-lymphotrophic virus Type 1; and pathogens causing malaria, syphilis, babesiosis, brucellosis, leptospirosis, arboviral infections, relapsing fever, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and viral hemorrhagic fever.

These hazards can be minimized or eliminated through training, work practices, personal protective clothing and equipment, and signs and labels among other safety methods.

Training is the most effective means of reducing injury rates. And it should start with a written exposure control plan or policy. The plan should be reviewed annually to reflect new or modified procedures, technology, and equipment. New employees should be provided with training and recurrent training should be done on a regular basis as deemed necessary by the company as procedures and technology change to maintain safety.

The training program should include a copy of the regulation, and an explanation of its contents, along with an explanation of the epidemiology and symptoms of bloodborne diseases, an explanation of the modes of transmission of bloodborne pathogens, the employer's exposure control plan, a method to recognize tasks that may involve exposure, and methods to prevent or reduce exposure. A copy of the company's control plan should be provided to you.

Personal protection equipment
In situations that might involve exposure to bloodborne pathogens, it's important to ensure you have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes latex or protective gloves, masks, eye protection, and complete protective clothing. It is essential to have a barrier between you and the potentially infectious material.

It's important to have the necessary equipment, have it in good condition, and know how to dispose of it after use. Items can be allocated to each employee or stored in a central area for easy access. Garments and equipment should be placed in a designated area after use for cleaning, decontamination, or disposal. Containers should be closable, puncture-resistant, leak-proof on the sides and bottom, and marked with the appropriate biohazard label.

After removal of gloves or other PPE, employees should have access to handwashing facilities. Soap and running water are needed to adequately flush possibly contaminated material from the skin. As an interim measure antiseptic hand cleaner and a clean cloth or paper towel can be used until soap and water are more readily available or feasible to use.

While some companies make employees responsible for their own uniforms, this doesn't apply when there is the possibility of contamination. Special arrangements are usually made with an outside source to decontaminate and clean personal protective clothing at no cost to employees. A designated area or container should be clearly labeled to place worn or contaminated items.

Storage and handling

Whoever is responsible for cleanup should be on the alert and take the necessary protective measures. Broken glassware or objects shouldn't be picked up by hand, but swept or brushed into a receptacle. When moving contaminated materials, make sure containers are closed so that further contamination doesn't occur during storage or transport. Reusable containers shouldn't be opened, emptied, or cleaned manually which could increase employee injury.

Documentation and follow-up
If an incident does occur, it should be reported immediately so that the correct measures can be taken. Report it to your supervisor and the designated safety coordinator or staff medical personnel. Documentation should include the route of exposure, a description of the circumstances surrounding the exposure, and the identification of the source if possible.

An employee then should undergo confidential medical treatment so that blood testing can occur to evaluate the exposure status to hepatitis B (HBV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (See related sidebar.) The healthcare professional evaluating an employee should also have the medical records and vaccination status of the employee. All medical evaluations will be made by or under the supervision of a licensed physician or licensed healthcare professional. All laboratory tests must be conducted by an accredited laboratory at no cost to the employee.

Counseling is also an important part of the process. Employees should be made aware of any possible long-term conditions and if further evaluation or treatment will be required.

Work shouldn't be life-threatening. To ensure your safety, make sure you're aware of your company's policies. Know what's available in terms of personal protection equipment and use it when necessary.

The diseases

Hepatitis B (HBV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)