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Bloodborne Pathogens at Work: Are You at Risk?

bloodborne pathogens at workBloodborne pathogens are a risk in many professions, some expected (e.g. doctors, nurses) and some not (e.g. janitorial staff). In this blog post, we’ll look at bloodborne pathogen exposure risks in different professions and provide links to additional resources.

What are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms found in human blood. Common pathogens include hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Pathogens are transmitted when blood or body fluids from an infected person come into contact with another person through eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin.

Healthcare Workers and Hospitals

As you might expect, those employed in patient care, such as doctors, nurses and paramedics, are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Here, the greatest risk of exposure is from accidental pokes or cuts from needles or other sharp instruments. For example, if a healthcare worker administers a needle to an infected patient, then accidentally pokes him- or herself, the pathogen can transfer. That’s why hospitals and other healthcare facilities have detailed procedures for safe handling of sharps. (For more on this, see the CDC’s Sharps Safety for Healthcare Settings and the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act.)

Fortunately, healthcare workers can reduce the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens through the use of personal protective equipment. For more information on this, see the CDC web page Protecting Healthcare Personnel.

Of course healthcare workers aren’t the only ones at risk in hospital settings. Workers charged with cleaning up bodily fluids and handling contaminated materials can also contract bloodborne pathogens without proper protection. The OSHA Hospital eTool has guidelines for handling contaminated material in hospitals, including laundry and housekeeping.

Dentists and Dental Hygienists

Those providing dental care are also exposed to body fluids, such a saliva and blood. For these reasons, the CDC developed guidelines for infection control in dentistry in 2003. In addition, the American Dental Association has information on infection control in dentistry.

Thankfully, transmission of bloodborne pathogens in dentistry is rare. Engineering controls (such as self-sheathing anesthetic needles) have helped to reduce exposure risk, as has the use of PPE, such as gloves, masks, gowns and protective eyewear.

Laboratory Environments

Exposure to bloodborne pathogens is also a risk in laboratory environments that work with human body fluids. Laboratories use primary barriers, such as biological safety cabinets, enclosed containers and safety centrifuge cups, to reduce risk of transmission. Of course, PPE such as gloves, coats, show covers, respirators and safety goggles, is also important.

For more information on safety in laboratory environments, see the CDC document Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories.

First Aid Administrators

Those responsible for providing first aid may also be exposed to bloodborne pathogens. When it comes to providing PPE to first aid providers, OSHA clarifies that the “employer pays” rule also applies to any employee responsible for administering first aid, even if they have the responsibility only in emergency circumstances and not as part of their every day duties.

The Rule does not apply to employees who perform first aid as a “good Samaritan,” where it’s not part of their official duties.

Bloodborne Pathogen Kits

Any workplace with possible bloodborne pathogen exposure should have bloodborne pathogens kits on site. These kits contain PPE and supplies to workers from exposure to bloodborne pathogens when administering first aid and cleaning up body fluids.

Unclear on the difference between first aid kits and bloodborne pathogen kits? See our post First Aid Kits and Bloodborne Pathogen Kits: What’s the Difference?

Bloodborne Pathogen Kits and PPE at Select Safety Sales

At Select Safety Sales, we carry PPE to protect against transition of bloodborne pathogens at work, such as gloves, goggles, respirators and more.

We also carry a great selection of bloodborne pathogen kits and body fluid spill kits.

If you need help choosing the right PPE and bloodborne pathogen kits for your workplace, contact us at sales@selectsafetysales.com or call toll free (866) 864-3495. You can also use our online chat function!

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