Blood-borne pathogens are sneaky viruses or bacteria that people may contract through direct contact or by being bitten by infected bugs. These pathogens include but are not limited to HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Not a lot of people are aware of this, but a great number of workers covered by OSHA standards also deal with handling, cleaning up, and disposing hazardous wastes that may contain blood-borne pathogens.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030, for preventing blood-borne pathogen contamination. This standard outlines OSHA’s requirements for employers, so they can protect workers from blood-borne pathogens and materials categorized as OPIMs (other potentially infectious materials). OPIMs include bodily fluids, unfixed tissue or organs from living or dead humans, and HIV-containing cells, tissue or organ cultures, and solutions from both humans and animals.
The outline recommends the following procedures for employers to implement:
1. Exposure control plan implementation. Employers must establish and educate workers about an exposure control program that will completely eliminate or reduce risks of blood-borne pathogen or OPIM exposure. This is a written plan where employers must classify employees according to their designations and duties that leads to their exposure to potential contaminants. Employers must update this plan annually with any changes that occurred in regards to tasks, procedures, equipment usage, and occupational exposure.
2. Use of control measures. This essentially covers the following:
- Use of universal precautions in handling human blood and OPIMs.
- Determination and use of engineering controls, which include containers and self-sheathing needles for safely disposing blood-borne pathogen hazards from the workplace.
- Observation of work practice controls. Work practice controls refer to modifications in procedures for handling and disposing contaminated needles, specimens, and workplace sanitation.
- Provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns, eye and facial coverings, or masks. Employers must maintain this equipment for workers free-of-charge.
3. Implement a vaccination program for workers. Employees should receive a Hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination regularly, especially those who are greatly at risk for occupational exposure as per 29 CFR 1910.1030 (1)(2). This vaccination should be administered following blood-borne pathogen training and within 10 days of starting work.
4. Conduct post-exposure evaluations and check-ups for occupationally exposed workers regularly. Workers who have been directly exposed to blood-borne pathogens or OPMIs should be evaluated and tested for infections, if they consent. The cost of this evaluation and follow-up should be shouldered by the employer.
5. Proper use of chemical labels, warning signs and bags. Labels, pictograms and statements should be put on containers with hazardous wastes and contaminated devices, from small containers to refrigerators. Facilities should also use red containers and bags. Warning signs should be posted at the entrance and exits of all laboratories and production facilities involved in HIV and HBV research.
6. Provide current and specialized training for workers. Employers must inform workers of their duties and ensure that they are getting all the help they need in terms of properly handling blood-borne pathogens and preventing their spread in the workplace.
7. Recordkeeping. Employers should keep a record of injuries, exposure incidences, and training. Note, however, that injuries should be recorded unless otherwise exempted by Part 1904 of the 29 CFR.
For more information on blood-borne pathogens, visit OSHA.gov or download our blood-borne pathogen compliance kit and training aids for an affordable rate.