Bloodborne Pathogens – Prevention of Disease Transmission

Imagine receiving a call that an employee has been injured in a fall down a flight of stairs at your facility. The caller tells him that he has called 911 and that some of his co-workers are treating the victim. As a supervisor, he decides to respond to the scene.

You arrive just as the firefighters and paramedics take over the care of the victim. These rescuers do their job well: they stabilize the victim, wrap them up for transport to the hospital, and gently place them on the stretcher.

As you watch, you can’t help but notice that the firefighters and paramedics wear medical gloves and goggles. As EMS (emergency medical services) personnel leave the area, you reach out to the employees who helped to thank them for their efforts. Almost immediately you notice a very frightening sight: both rescuers have quite large bloodstains on their clothes and, even more annoying, they are both using paper towels to wipe the blood off their hands. It is obvious that these employees did nothing to protect themselves from disease transmission and both have been contaminated with the victim’s blood.

The use of PPE (personal protective equipment) is an important part of the equipment of professional rescuers. They know that protecting themselves from bloodborne pathogens is, in a way, just as important as caring for the victim. But what about his people? Are they aware of the risks associated with not wearing protective equipment?

If your company provides first aid kits for employee use or if your employees must respond to a medical emergency, they should have access to protective equipment and receive training on bloodborne pathogens.

ASSESS THE EXPOSURE RISK OF YOUR OPERATION – I was recently asked to assess the exposure risks for an association of tow truck operators, body shop technicians, and auto mechanics. These individuals lacked training on bloodborne pathogens.

Tow truck operators wear thick leather work gloves and routinely pick up blood-stained windshields or wrap contaminated air pockets around steering columns. Body shop technicians remove contaminated seats from wrecked vehicles and then sit on them during their breaks or at lunch. Mechanics tend to cut their knuckles or their foreheads while repairing vehicles. They also share tools with their co-workers, tools that are contaminated with blood from their latest injury.

I know you’re not in the auto repair business. The above examples are intended to get you thinking about the risks of your own operation’s exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids. Do you have a first aid team or people assigned to respond to an emergency? Are first aid kits available for employees? Do employees share equipment or tools that could become contaminated? Who is responsible for cleaning up bodily fluids after an accident or injury?

Without proper communication policies and training to prevent disease transmission, your employees could be exposed to the same dangers paramedics and firefighters face when they come to your aid.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of exposure? Let’s start with the definition of bloodborne pathogens and the impact exposure to them can have on employees and employers.

CONTAMINATION PREVENTION GUIDELINES: Bloodborne Pathogens are pathogenic microorganisms that are transmitted through human blood and cause disease in humans. They include, but are not limited to, Hepatitis B and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

I know that for many people (myself included) words like microorganisms, immunodeficiency, and pathogens bring back memories of high school and health classes, the last places in the world most of us want to revisit. So before I continue, let me put it in my terms: There is a lot of garbage out there that can make us seriously ill or even kill us if we become contaminated.

We need to be constantly on guard and very careful not to contaminate ourselves. I’ve been teaching CPR and first aid for over 25 years, and I’m often asked if I’d do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation without a barrier on someone I don’t know. I answer without hesitation: If I found someone unresponsive and not breathing, I would immediately call for help and start chest compressions on the victim, but there is no way I would give the person mouth-to-mouth without a respiratory barrier.

First responders know the risks associated with contact with bloodborne pathogens and know how to protect themselves. Unfortunately, too many people in the workplace or Good Samaritans on the street do little or nothing to take the necessary precautions. Too often they realize they have been exposed to bodily fluids after the emergency, when it is too late to do anything about it.

EMPLOYEES – Here are some simple rules to follow when faced with the possibility of exposure to bloodborne pathogens or any bodily fluid for that matter. This information is presented as a guide for both employees and employers. The American Heart Association calls it “Make a PACT, know how to act.”

PROTECT YOURSELF: Protect yourself from blood or materials containing blood. This includes the use of protective equipment, such as gloves and goggles, and the use of a respiratory barrier if you are performing CPR. Consider your options if you find yourself without protective gear.

ACT: If you discover that you have come into contact with someone else’s blood or other body fluids, act quickly and safely. Immediately wash area with hot soapy water for one minute before rinsing. If your eyes have become contaminated, flush them with clean water for up to five minutes. If no flushing agent is available at the scene, have someone bring you water. Firefighters or paramedics can help you if they are still on the scene.

CLEAN UP – After an emergency, especially in the shop or office area, clean up any area contaminated with blood or body fluids. Wear protective gear. Clean the area with a solution of one part Clorox and eight parts water. Thoroughly rinse the area and let the solution sit for at least three minutes. Take care when cleaning the area, especially if it involves broken glass or splinters of wood or metal. Put all dirty items, including dirty cleaning materials, in a plastic bag and put it in the dumpster as soon as you’re done. If an injection device (such as a needle) is involved, try to give it to the medics or firefighters before they leave; otherwise, throw it in the dumpster and be very careful when doing so.

SAY IT – Report the incident immediately to your supervisor or the human resources department. Request a dated copy of the report (even if it is handwritten).

RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYERS – Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Here are the details of this responsibility.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – Any employee at risk of being exposed to bloodborne pathogens should have the necessary protective equipment to keep them safe from exposure. This kit includes gloves, goggles, and, if required, breathing masks or CPR barriers.

EDUCATION: Not all professions require bloodborne pathogen prevention education and training.

A call to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) may or may not give you the answer you’re looking for. It appears as if OSHA looks at a number of factors when determining whether or not an employer should comply. For example, if you offer voluntary CPR/First Aid training to your employees, they may not be required to take bloodborne pathogens training. If you have designated first aid responders within your organization, you probably meet the training requirements.

Many of you are aware of the occupational exposure risk of your employees. If you have staff who are routinely or even occasionally exposed to blood or body fluids in the course of their duties, you may want to consider offering protective equipment and training to these employees.

ENGINEERING CONTROLS: Engineering controls help protect employees from bloodborne pathogen contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens in the workplace. Here’s an example of engineering controls: An employee wearing his leather work gloves realizes that he has come into contact with bodily fluids and that the gloves are contaminated. Two controls must be in place to protect the employee. First, knowing his exposure risk, the employer should keep a spare set of gloves on hand so the operator can complete his job. Second, the company must have a procedure for disposing of or cleaning dirty gloves.

WORK PRACTICES – Establishing standard practices to prevent the spread of disease is a very important part of an employer’s responsibility to protect employees.

In the case of the body shop mentioned above, good labor practices would include establishing a policy requiring workers to wrap seats removed from a wrecked vehicle in plastic and prohibiting them from sitting on the seats, even with the plastic covering on their seat. place.

Providing employees with their own tool boxes is another good practice. If you share tools, have a policy for cleaning and decontaminating tools, especially after an accident or injury. Also, make sure employees know the importance of disposing of or cleaning contaminated personal protective equipment.

Finally, offer a bloodborne pathogen training course. It’s a great way to communicate the importance of preventing disease transmission and protecting your company from a large workers’ compensation/liability claim.

HAVE A WRITTEN POLICY AND REPORTING PROCEDURES IN PLACE – As I mentioned earlier, implement policies related to bloodborne pathogens in your operation. Start small, then expand policies as new problems arise. Communicate with your people. Make sure they are aware of the notification procedures and the importance of reporting any potential contamination.

OSHA has templates for creating your own bloodborne pathogens policy and/or procedure. Simply download the forms, fill in the blanks with your company name, etc., print them out, and you’re good to go. Additional information can be obtained by calling your OSHA regional office.

TRAINING AND POLICIES ARE WORTHFUL INVESTMENTS. I am a business of one, but if I had employees, I can assure you they would be trained on bloodborne pathogen risks and contamination prevention, and my company would have a policy in place. It is the right thing to do for a company, its employees and the employer. And imagine how good it would feel to know your operation is compliant should OSHA officials decide to visit.

Invest an hour to set up your program, distribute the information to your employees, and host a 30-minute bloodborne pathogen education and prevention class. The investment is small, but the dividends for you and your employees will be huge.

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