Your blood is your life. Even your most vital organ, the heart, performs just one job – pumping nourishing blood to every part of your body.
But what about when you must come into contact with someone else’s blood?
Suddenly this sacred giver of life becomes a hazardous material. That’s because blood is also a host to many dangerous pathogens – microorganisms that can cause disease and even death in humans.
Bloodborne pathogens are a threat
The threat of blood exposure is real. According to OSHA, some of the dangerous illnesses that can be caught from blood exposure include the very dangerous infections HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Others include Hepatitis A, Staph and Strep infections, Gastroenteritis-salmonella and Shigella, Pneumonia, Syphilis, TB, Malaria, Measles, Chicken Pox, Herpes, Urinary tract infections, and Blood infections.
Recognizing the danger from bloodborne contamination, OSHA developed a specific Bloodborne Pathogens standard. It can serve as a guideline to prevent injury or illness to those who may come into contact with blood as part of their job (occupational exposure).
Called standard 29 CFR 1910.1030, this set of rules “…places requirements on employers whose workers can be reasonably anticipated to contact blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), such as unfixed human tissues and certain body fluids.”
Universal Precautions based on OSHA’s standard
We’ve already mentioned OSHA’s standard 29 CFR 1910.1030 for exposure to any blood pathogens (which also includes bodily fluids). An essential part of the standard is that everyone follows their Universal Precautions. That means to treat ALL human blood and most bodily fluids as if they were contaminated with HIV or other bloodborne diseases.
OSHA lists three specific requirements for working near blood.
- As we just stated, but it’s worth repeating, to prevent contact with blood and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM), employees should practice the Universal Precautions. In other words, treat ALL human blood and most bodily fluids as if they were contaminated with HIV or other bloodborne diseases.
- When in a situation where it is difficult to tell the difference between types of body fluids, assume all bodily fluids present are potentially infectious.
- Use appropriate precautions when dealing with blood and other potentially infectious materials.
- Use gloves, masks, and gowns.
- Follow engineering and work practice controls to limit exposure.
Employers are responsible for employee safety
Blood and body fluid clean-up is a major concern. There are companies who specialize in cleaning up crime scenes and other trauma areas where large quantities of blood may have been spilled.
OSHA states very clearly that its standards apply to “…all employers who have an employee(s) with occupational exposure (i.e., reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) that may result from the performance of the employee’s duties).
Simply handing an employee some protective equipment is not enough. Employers have a duty to keep their employees as safe as possible when cleaning up blood and bodily fluids.
Steps employers can take to minimize occupational exposure
- Make sure all workers have received training in blood clean-up, OSHA’s standards, and exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other diseases.
- Design a plan specifically for minimizing employees’ exposure to contaminated blood and fluids.
- Keep in stock enough protective equipment so that all employees can work safely.
- At every site, apply OSHA’s Universal Precautions: always treat all blood and body fluids like they were contaminated.
Hospitals follow slightly different standards
Hospitals must deal with blood every day. For hospitals, OSHA has developed Standard Precautions which apply to all patients, whether they have been diagnosed with an infection or not.
Standard Precautions promote hand washing plus wearing protective clothing and devices any time exposure to a patient’s blood is likely. The Standard Precautions in hospitals applies to blood and all bodily fluids except sweat. It also includes non-intact skin and mucous membranes.
Get training to handle exposure to blood and other body fluids
Anyone whose job may involve exposure to blood pathogens and other contaminated bodily fluids should have training. As part of our OSHA 30-Hour General Industry training course, we cover bloodborne pathogens. We also have additional courses available. Sign up now and start learning more.
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