Yourself Against Blood Pathogens
Pathogens are viral or bacterial microorganisms. They travel the blood
or body fluid of an infected individual, and can cause disease in humans.
Due to the nature of their occupation, healthcare workers are particularly
prone to infections since they handle patients, blood, and other potentially
infectious body fluids while at work. The two most common pathogens
healthcare workers need to protect themselves against are Human Immunodeficiency
Virus (HIV), and Hepatitis B Virus (HBV).
To better protect healthcare workers from occupational exposure to pathogens,
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established
the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard in 1991. This Standard gives special
attention to workers handling potentially infectious body fluids, and
encourages infection prevention by following universal precaution methods.
Under universal precautions, all blood and body fluids are handled as
if they are infected by pathogens.
To help protect their workforce, healthcare employers must implement
safety training and prevention control for workers who handle blood
and body fluids. Workers who come into contact with infectious materials
through the mucous membranes of the eye, mouth, or nose, or through
a break in skin are at risk. Additionally, improper handling of occupational
tools, such as razors, scalpels, or needles also puts a worker at risk.
Preventative measures for workers to avoid exposure to infectious pathogens
include, but are not limited to the following:
In emergency response scenarios, exposure may be unavoidable. In the event
a worker becomes exposed to pathogens, all soiled clothing should be removed
immediately, and the affected area should be flushed with water. The skin
should then be washed vigorously with soap and water to remove all contaminates.
Any wounds on the skin should be squeezed, and then washed out with soap
and water. If you become exposed to pathogens, seek immediate medical
treatment. In addition, counseling with a qualified healthcare professional
may be required to accurately assess the risks of the infection, and to
prescribe treatment as needed.
- All workers should wash their hands with medical-grade soap before
and after seeing each patient, and before and after removing gloves.
As needed, other protective equipment should also be worn, including
eyewear, gowns, shields, and facemasks.
- Implement and enforce universal precaution methods in training:
Handle all human blood and body fluids with the assumption that they
contain infectious pathogens.
- All potentially infectious materials should be handled with gloves
and disposed of in a bag marked with a biohazard label. In general,
a biohazard label is usually a red label.
- Dispose of sharp tools such as needles and scalpels immediately
after use. Make sure you have the proper disposal containers nearby
each applicable work area.
- As a preventative measure, all workers should be vaccinated for
- If a spill occurs or glass container breaks, never clean up with
your hands. Use some type of tool, such as tongs, or a broom and dustpan.
- Do not take meal or smoke breaks in your work area so the oral transfer
of germs is eliminated.
- When performing first aid or CPR on a patient, utilize a mask equipped
with a one-way valve to prevent the transmission of infection.
- Enforce procedures for proper cleaning and decontamination of potentially
infected areas on a daily basis. This includes utilizing the proper
cleaning agents. If a spill occurs, contain the spill immediately
and then clean up the potentially affected area.
- Place the Bloodborne
Pathogens Poster to outline safety standards in prominent workplace
location so all workers understand how to protect themselves.
OSHA estimates that approximately eight million workers within the healthcare
industry are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
Unfortunately the warning signs of transmission are not always apparent,
so detection of an infectious source is virtually impossible.
Although many preventative steps can be taken to decrease the likelihood
of HIV or HBV infection, there are no guarantees. To make matters worse,
the HIV virus does not yet have an available vaccination, making the
risks of transmission fatal. When working with potentially infected
patients or fluids, employers and their workers cannot take any chances.
They must work in tandem to enforce strict preventative methods, so
the life and vitality of their facility is not placed in jeopardy.
This article is designed to be an informative guideline for healthcare
employers who need to establish preventative protocol against bloodborne
pathogens. For more detail information on individual circumstances,
visit osha.gov, or
seek the appropriate legal counsel.
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