Protecting your workers against bloodborne pathogens

Bloodborne pathogens can be a risk factor in many workplaces, and implementing specific safety guidelines helps ensure the protection of workers.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms within the blood that cause disease in humans. Workers in many occupations, including first aid team members, housekeeping workers in some industries, nurses, and other healthcare personnel may be exposed to such organisms and can be at risk for serious and fatal illnesses. Other industries with high injury rates and possible exposure are manufacturing and construction. Consider the following information to promote safe and healthy sanitary practices at your worksite.

Handling contaminated sharps
When workers handle sharps any cut or needlestick may present a risk. Objects that are contaminated with chemicals, microorganisms, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs) should be disposed of in sharps disposal containers, OSHA explains. Any room or area in which sharp or contaminated objects are being used should have a sharps disposal container in the vicinity. These containers must be puncture-resistant, have leakproof sides and bottoms, and be color-coded red as a warning that it contains hazardous materials. OSHA requires employers to use safer medical devices when possible. Safe medical devices can be needleless or have protection against contact with the sharp built-in.

Protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used when exposed to or working with sharps or contaminated equipment. Safety products such as gloves, lab coats, face shields or masks, and eye protection help keep workers safe. Of these, gloves are one of the most important pieces of safety equipment to use when handling contaminated or hazardous material. OSHA states, "If it can be reasonably expected that a worker could have hand contact with blood, OPIM, or contaminated surfaces or items, the employer must ensure that the worker wears gloves. Single-use gloves cannot be washed or decontaminated for reuse. Utility gloves may be decontaminated if their ability to provide an effective barrier is not compromised. They should be replaced when they show signs of cracking, peeling, tearing, puncturing, or deteriorating."

If a worker is allergic to standard latex or powdered gloves, powder-free vinyl gloves or powder-free nitrile gloves can be provided.

Workplace accident response
A first aid program is an important part of a safety and health management system and includes hazard identification, prevention, and control to minimize the outcome of accidents or exposures.

OSHA requires employers to have "trained first aid providers at all workplaces of any size if there is no infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace which is used for the treatment of all injured employees" and medical supplies that correspond to the hazards of the workplace. A first aid provider in the workplace is someone with training that can provide initial medical emergency procedures. This responder would perform a first assessment and intervention until emergency medical services (EMS) arrives.

Reporting an incident
If a worker is injured or reports a bloodborne pathogen exposure incident, such as a needlestick, address the issue immediately and have the worker medically evaluated. This ensures that the individual is immediately treated and that other workers aren't affected by the exposure. The medical evaluation and follow-up of the exposed worker must be confidential, and provided to the worker with no medical charges in relation to the exposure.

Following the standards set by OSHA and addressing exposure incidents swiftly will help ensure your workplace remains safe.

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