Everyone sees the need for trained responders, first-aid kits and automated external defibrillators at the workplace. But what about the simple cut that bleeds enough to require a gauze bandage? Does the responder â€” or just a nearby helpful employee â€” see the need to wear disposable gloves? Bloodborne pathogens and other biohazards command little attention from most people, yet can cause critical illnesses and sometimes eventual death.
Defining the danger
Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms (bacteria or viruses) carried in the blood that can be transmitted and cause disease in other people. Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are two examples that are addressed by the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen standard 29 CFR 1910.1030. Malaria and syphilis also are caused by bloodborne pathogens. Other body fluids also may transmit these and other diseases.
Infectious disease such as the H1N1 flu virus is a workplace concern that employers must address.
Unbroken skin generally acts as a barrier to bloodborne pathogens. However, microorganisms can enter through any damaged or broken skin such as acne, sunburn, blisters, open sores, cuts or abrasions. They also may be transmitted through mucous membranes, including those of the eyes, nose or mouth.
Infectious diseases such as the H1N1 flu virus are primarily transmitted through airborne body fluids emitted with coughs and sneezes, and breathed in by others in the immediate vicinity. They also are transmitted when a hand used to cover the mouth then touches faucets, doorknobs and other surfaces from which it is later picked up by others.
OSHA first-aid regulations
Emergency medical services and first aid that general industry employers must provide are described in OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.151. The standard recommends kits and supplies that are compliant with the minimum guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in Z308.1-2009. It also incorporates other standards and measures by reference, such as 29 CFR 1910.1030, which deals with bloodborne pathogens.
OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.1030 standard requires limiting employee exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials. It specifies that training and personal protective equipment must be provided for employees who can be “reasonably anticipated” to face possible contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials on the job.
The standard, issued in 1991, was updated in 2001 in response to the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, and can be found at http://www.osha.gov, along with FAQs and various letters of interpretation issued over the years since then.
Following the best PPE practices recommended below will help keep first responders safe from bloodborne pathogens and other infectious material.
1. “Universal precautions.” Treat every situation as potentially dangerous. OSHA’s universal precautions require that all human blood or other potentially infectious materials be considered hazardous.
2. Hand protection. Before donning gloves, cover any cuts or sores on your own hands with a bandage. Inspect the gloves and if the material is thin, doubleglove to provide another layer of protection. Do not use torn or punctured gloves, no matter how miniscule the damage might be. When removing used gloves, pull them off from the cuff, turning them inside out so the outside of the gloves do not touch your bare skin. Dispose of them in a designated biohazard bag. Immediately scrub your hands thoroughly, including under nails â€” and any other potentially contaminated skin â€” with nonabrasive soap and running water at hand-washing facilities that employers must provide in readily accessible areas.
3. Eye and face protection. While providing first aid or other medical assistance as well as working in labs or while cleaning up a spill, there may be a risk of splashing or vaporization of contaminated fluids. Use goggles to protect against transmission of pathogens through your eye membranes. Use a face shield in addition to goggles to protect against splashes to your nose and mouth.
4. Body protection. In some cases, you may need to wear aprons or body shields to protect your clothing and keep blood or other contaminated fluids from soaking through to your skin. Wear shoe covers to avoid contamination of your footwear.
5. Clean up. For clean-up of blood or other body fluids from sick or injured employees, use gloves and, depending on the situation, some or all of the above-mentioned PPE. In addition, you should have available a small shovel and scraper, appropriate absorbent materials, biohazard bags, ties, germicidal towelettes â€” and for large areas, a mop or sponge and bucket with a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water. Some manufacturers supply complete biohazard clean-up kits that contain all the necessary supplies, including special absorbent materials that deodorize as well as bind the hazardous body substances together.
6. Deposit waste. Once clean-up is complete, deposit the waste material first in a labeled, red biohazard bag and tie it tightly. Use germicidal towelettes or bleach solution to clean the contaminated area. Then put the first bag into a second biohazard bag, and add the used towelettes or sponges, your shoe covers, gown, face mask with eye shield and, lastly gloves in the same bag, and seal it with a tie. Discard the red bag in an appropriate container for infected solid waste as required by local regulations.
7. Sharps. For any broken glass or other sharp material, use a broom with shovel or dustpan, and deposit them in appropriate boxes. Never touch them with your gloved or ungloved hands and do not put them in a biohazard bag.
8. Decontamination. Finally, wipe your hands with antiseptic hand wipes that provide rapid bactericidal action and allow them to air dry. Next, go to the nearest handwashing area and wash your hands and all potentially exposed skin thoroughly with non-abrasive soap and running water.
9. Equipment decontamination. A person trained in the appropriate procedures must decontaminate and sterilize all non-disposable equipment and tools used, such as mops, buckets and re-usable gloves, as soon as possible.
Factory or construction site, chemical, plastics or food and beverage processing plant â€” no matter what the workplace â€” there should be no toleration of complacency when there is potential for exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other infectious disease. The effects of exposure may not be immediate, but there is a definite potential for serious illness and eventual death.