Another peril almost everyone dreads is encountering a friend or co-worker who has been involved in an accident. Unfortunately in this day and age, all blood or other bodily fluids should be considered infectious regardless of the perceived status of the source. It is essential to ensure that the injured person receives necessary help as quickly as possible; however, protection for the caregiver against disease transmission is also an important consideration.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that most corporations implement an Exposure Control Plan to minimize employee exposure to body fluids. Often, these plans include an immunization program for those persons at risk. Occupational exposure in the aircraft maintenance industry comes in the form of hangar accident, rendering first aid and CPR, plus accident investigation or aircraft recovery.
How disease spreads
The disease process begins when a disease-causing agent called a pathogen enters the human body. Both bacteria and virus are considered pathogens and have distinctly different properties. Bacteria does not depend on a host for life and in many cases can be controlled by antibiotics. Some examples of bacteria are meningitis, scarlet fever and tetanus. A virus, on the other hand, does depend on a host and antibiotics are generally ineffective. The best control over viruses is a healthy immune system. Some examples of viruses are the common cold, hepatitis, and HIV. For disease spread to occur, four elements need to be in place:
1. Presence of a pathogen
2. Adequate amount of pathogen
3. Personal susceptibility
4. Entry site
The one element that we often have control over is the "Entry site," and there are four methods of pathogen access to the body.
Direct contact – touching possible contaminated bodily fluids.
Indirect contact – touching objects that have touched contaminated body fluids.
Airborne disease transmission – inhaling droplets from a cough or sneeze.
Vector-borne transmission – occurs through insect bites. In the event of clean-up after an accident, it is important to note that a virus such as Hepatitis can remain alive even in dry blood for up to two days.
Decontamination of an accident site should be accomplished using chlorine bleach or alcohol with all cleaning materials being properly disposed of in containers identified with a BIOHAZARD label permanently attached. Disease prevention can be accomplished on the job by the effective use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Personal Hygiene Practices. PPE is adequate when it does not permit blood or other infectious material to pass through to clothing, skin, eyes, mouth and any mucous membrane. Personal hygiene includes thorough washing using soap and water for at least 15 minutes.
Most company exposure control plans include a post exposure evaluation and a follow-up. Different states have different laws concerning individual right to privacy and may affect the testing of an individual’s blood for the presence of pathogens. It is up to each of us to know what our employers offer regarding our protection. Investigation of the OSHA web site www.osha.gov can provide answers to many questions regarding minimum standards. Also, the American Red Cross offers a short course titled Preventing Disease Transmission.
After all, it’s not aviation that’s hazardous, but rather the environments in which aircraft and its maintainers exist that can be problematic. Awareness of potential hazards, use of personal protective equipment, hazard training, along with common sense can ensure most of us a long and healthy career.
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