Demystifying Bloodborne Pathogen Safety
Working in an environment that exposes you to bodily fluids like blood bears serious risks. These fluids can carry pathogens that can cause fatal diseases. Bloodborne pathogens are especially dangerous. One tiny cut from a small needle can be the difference between a long healthy life and a chronic disease that needs maintenance medicine.
If work in an industry that exposes you to bloodborne pathogens, your first line of defense is ample education. There are guidelines that are set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA that can ensure your safety. So, whether you are a business operator or an employee, equipping your work place with a bloodborne pathogen training kit and adhering to this set of rules is always in your best interest.
What are Bloodborne Pathogens?
For those outside the medical industry, the word pathogen can be daunting. Rightly so, as pathogens are any type of microorganisms that can bring about disease. Bloodborne pathogens, as the name suggests, are transmitted through blood.
Bloodborne pathogens are particularly concerning, especially for those who come in contact with bodily fluids because it is especially easy to get infected. Any sharp object can cause tiny, microscopic cuts that bloodborne pathogens can use in order to infect.
What Are the Most Common Types of Bloodborne Pathogens?
While there is a slew of different bloodborne pathogens, there are three that are most commonly transmitted through unsafe working conditions:
Hepatitis B, otherwise known as HBV, is a viral infection that can cause very serious damage to the liver. It is fatal and can make the infected more susceptible to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
HBV can be passed on in different ways. In place wherein the disease is common, the most known mode of transmission is through childbirth - mothers passing the disease to their babies. Nevertheless, exposure to infected blood and other bodily fluids can also cause the spread of HBV. The virus is common for individuals who handle needles professionally or to sustain their drug dependence.
Hepatitis B can cause several symptoms that may appear two weeks to six months from infection. While not all patients exhibit symptoms, there are few that experience jaundice, vomiting, fatigue, and abdominal pain.
There is a vaccine that is used in order to protect a person from developing HBV even after exposure. However, one of the most concerning things about this disease is that there is no known cure. Medication for people infected by HBV is directed toward maintaining quality of life as opposed to curing the disease altogether.
Like HBV, Hepatitis C is also a viral infection that causes damage to the liver. Both types of hepatitis exhibit the same symptoms. However, Hepatitis C or HCV is less likely to be transmitted from mother to child or during sexual intercourse.
HCV’s main mode of transmission is through needle sharing and improper health administration. There is currently no vaccine or cure for HCV. However, almost 80% of people who carry this virus exhibit no symptoms.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a virus that targets and weakens the immune system. As a result, people who carry this virus are more susceptible to succumb to infection and various types of cancer.
The spread of HIV can be attributed to different reasons. Sexual intercourse without protection is among the most common forms of transmission. Sharing contaminated needles and tainted blood transfusion has also proven to pass the disease from person to person.
Patients with HIV exhibit different symptoms based on the stage of infection. For the most part, people are very contagious but remain asymptomatic during the first few months of infection. As the virus becomes stronger and the immune system gets weaker, people start experiencing weight loss, fever, and diarrhea.
If left untreated, HIV can progress to full-blown Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. At this stage, severe bacterial infections and stage 4 cancers are more prevalent.
Currently, there is no known medicine that can eliminate HIV from a patient’s system. However, there are treatments that can suppress their development.
What Are the Bloodborne Pathogens Standards OSHA Requires Employers to Adhere to?
OSHA released Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations at 29 CFR 1910.1030 for compliance of business owners in order to safeguard the well-being of employees especially those often exposed to blood and other bodily fluids. A brief description of the guidelines follows:
Development and Proper Facilitation of an Exposure Plan
This requirement necessitates the employer to provide a list of employees that handle hazardous materials and those who CAN come into contact with them. Procedures that would be performed by the employees in case of exposure.
Annual Exposure Plan Updates
Every year the exposure plan needs to be updated with new records of employees that have come onboard. Moreover, employers need to report consultation with front-liners as to improvements for the tasks and procedures set in case of contamination. Updates with medical technology also need to be reported every year.
Implementation of Universal Precautions
This guideline states that all bodily fluids including blood are treated as if they contain bloodborne pathogens regardless of the origin.
Implementation of Engineering Controls
Employers are required to provide tools that have been proven to prevent the transmission of bloodborne diseases. These tools include but are not limited to “disposal containers, self-sheathing needles, and safer medical devices.”
Implementation of Work Controls
Implementation of processes that prevent exposure to tainted bodily fluids is required by OSHA. Guidelines for handling toxic materials, disposing of toxic materials, and other procedures that might expose employees should be in place.
Provision of Protective Gear
Masks, gloves, and other protective gear should be provided solely by the employer. Employees should not cover ANY costs.
Provision of Hepatitis B Vaccines
Similar to protective gear, employers are required to provide HBV vaccines for their employees who come in direct contact with toxic materials. Vaccines should be administered at least within days of the employee’s first assignment.
Development and Facilitation of a Post-Exposure Evaluation and Follow-Up
In the event of exposure, employers are required to administer tests and record all necessary details surrounding the incident with all costs shouldered by the company.
Labeling of Hazardous Materials
Containers that house hazardous and regulated materials should be labeled clearly and accordingly.
Provision of Proper Training
Employers are required to create their own bloodborne pathogen training kit to educate their workers about occupational hazards and the procedures that should be implemented in case of exposure. Training should be in a language that workers understand.
Maintenance of Training and Medical Records
A sharps injury log is required of the employer.
Effective occupational hazard training can save lives. According to research, since the implementation of OSHA guidelines, workplace casualties have decreased from 38 workers a day more than three decades ago to 14 people in 2017. Moreover, workplace injuries are down from 10.9 instances per 100 employees to 2.8 per 100 workers in 2017.
The statistics speak for themselves. Nevertheless, while necessary, ensuring the health and wellness of your workers through complicated guidelines can be daunting especially if you tackle it on your own. To see how we can solve your company's bloodborne pathogen training needs, check out our products and services here or call us at (866) 329-5407 today. Remember, your one phone call can save lives.