Approximately 5.6 million American employees are at risk of developing several types of illnesses due to their exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Bloodborne pathogens are pathogenic microorganisms in human blood and other infectious materials that can cause disease. These illnesses include HIV, HBV, and other potentially infectious materials in the workplace. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in cases reported. This poses a severe problem for exposed employees and their employers.
In addition to blood, other potentially infectious materials include semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, and any bodily fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood.
The risk of contact with bloodborne pathogens is not only present in the healthcare industry. Employees can be hurt on the job in any industry and need aid. Simply providing first aid for a minor cut can put employees at risk.
Work practice controls reduce the likelihood of exposure to bloodborne pathogens by altering the way a task is performed. Here are four work practices and engineering controls to prevent illness.
Observe universal precautions to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Following universal precautions, treat blood and other potentially infectious materials as potentially infected with HBV, HIV, or other bloodborne pathogens, particularly when differentiation between body fluid types is difficult or impossible. By assuming all materials are potentially infectious, you remove the majority of the risk.
Always have handwashing facilities readily accessible to employees. If the particular line of work prevents these facilities from being available, provide antiseptic hand cleanser in conjunction with clean paper towels or antiseptic towelettes. When these cleansers and towels are used, always wash hands with soap and running water as soon as possible.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Appropriate PPE includes gloves, gowns, replaceable coveralls, laboratory coats, face shields or masks, eye protection, mouthpieces, resuscitation bags, pocket masks, or other ventilation devices.
PPE is considered appropriate only if it does not allow blood or other potentially infectious materials to pass through to or reach the employee’s work clothes, street clothes, undergarments, skin, eyes, mouth, or other mucous membranes under normal conditions of use.
Provide training and instruction on the proper use and limitations of PPE.
Maintain work areas in a clean and sanitary condition. Develop and implement written schedules for cleaning and methods of decontamination based upon the location within the facility, type of surface to be cleaned, type of soil present, and tasks or procedures being performed in the area.
Clean and decontaminate equipment and work surfaces after contact with blood using a high-level disinfectant that will kill viruses.
Report all occurrences of occupational exposure as soon as possible after the exposure. Depending on the type of exposure, the incident may need to be reported to OSHA.
Practicing these prevention techniques will help prevent the spread of disease and illness. Pay close attention when working in a high-risk area or helping others in an emergency to protect yourself and others.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)