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What are Universal Precautions and How Do They Help in Workplace Infection Control?

F Marie Athey OHST

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F Marie Athey OHST | November 26, 2013 | Comments Off on What are Universal Precautions and How Do They Help in Workplace Infection Control?

A great number of OSHA-protected workers from the General Industries comes from the Healthcare industry. Most of these workers handle infectious agents in a hospital or laboratory setting, and are at risk from occupational exposure to the said health hazards. What can be done to address these hazards and limit workers’ exposure to them?

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen standard 1910.1030 is the standard governing the handling and disposal of potentially infectious substances. The standard requires employers to enforce universal precautions to control the potential spread of infection. Based on OSHA’s concept of universal precautions, all human blood and bodily fluids should be treated the same as HIB and HBV and other pathogen-ridden samples. This way, the highest standard and measures preventing contamination will be upheld and observed by all.

According to a standard interpretation letter dated May 29, 1998, cases of healthcare professionals contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and other bloodborne pathogen-caused diseases have increased in recent years due to their occupational exposure to patients. OSHA believes that these incidences were unnecessary and the trend could be contained by practicing the bloodborne pathogen standard’s recommended universal precautions (29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1)). Observing the practices included in OSHA’s universal precautions alone could prevent workplace fatalities and illnesses among workers.

What are these practices? The most crucial of these practices are:

Using personal protective equipment. Workers should use the appropriate personal protective equipment for their jobs like gloves, face masks and puncture-resilient protective clothing at all times when handling human fluids and blood. (Personal protective equipment should be provided by employers to workers at no cost to the worker.)

Using engineering and workplace control to control occupational exposure. The first of these controls requires employers to provide a hand washing station for workers, where there’s enough supply of running water, soap, disposable hand towels or air-drying machine. Another example of these controls require workers to dispose of needles by putting them in puncture-resistant containers and by keeping food away from places where hazards are present.

The CDC also has a similar version of OSHA’s universal precautions called standard precautions. Based on a standard interpretation letter dated in February 10, 2009, all medical and dental facilities that are covered by the bloodborne pathogen standard and violate universal precaution requirements will be cited for non-compliance, unless of course, the facilities are observing a more stringent exposure control program (i.e. standard precautions). In its Guideline for Isolation Precauitons: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Setting 2007, the CDC stated:

“Standard precautions combine the major features of Universal Precautions and Body Substance Isolation and are based on the principle that all blood, body fluids, secretions, excretions except sweat, non intact skin, and mucous membranes may contain transmissible infectious agents. Standard Precautions include a group of infection prevention practices that apply to all patients, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status, in any setting in which healthcare is delivered. . .”

“These include hand hygiene; use of gloves, gown, mask, eye protection, or face shield, depending on the anticipated exposure; and safe injection practices. Standard precautions are more stringent than universal precautions alone and would be acceptable.”

Know more about the proper handling and disposal of hazardous substances during HAZCOM or HAZWOPER training. Visit our dedicated pages for the said training programs for further information.

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