A diverse group of employees—from high school coaches to tattoo artists to research scientists—risk coming into contact with bloodborne pathogens at work.
In 1991, OSHA published the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens standard in response to public concern over risks of exposure to infected blood and bodily fluids in the workplace—particularly exposure to HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Ten years later, Congress passed the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2001. This required OSHA to revise their standard for bloodborne pathogen safety to incorporate new medical devices and technologies that further reduce the risk of exposure—particularly when it comes to needlestick injuries.
If you work in a place where it’s reasonable to expect some risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens, the OSHA standard defines the measures your employer should take to reduce or eliminate that risk. It also outlines the actions you should take and the training you need to protect yourself.
OSHA does not certify bloodborne pathogen training programs, but it does set forth guidelines that these programs can follow. An OSHA-compliant bloodborne pathogen training program should teach you everything you need to know according to these guidelines.
Measures you’ll be taught to take as an individual include:
Universal Standard Precautions
These precautions are a key component of bloodborne pathogen safety. OSHA requires all employees to learn how to:
Properly wash their hands. Proper hand-washing technique is key to minimizing the risk of contracting a bloodborne illness. The standards include 40 to 60 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and water, as well as 20 to 30 seconds of washing hands with an alcohol-based cleaning product.
Safely collect and dispose of sharps. “Sharps” might include needles, razors, scissors, scalpel blades, or lancets. Your employer should provide safety boxes that are both spill-proof and safe from punctures.
Safely clean and dispose of bio-waste. This may include blood, soiled linens, medical waste, or fluid spills.
Develop good habits such as avoiding eating or drinking, applying cosmetics, inserting or removing contact lenses, or smoking in an area where you could be exposed to bloodborne pathogens.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
This is another key component of OSHA requirements—protective gear you wear to shield your body from contaminated spills. You may not need all equipment at all times, but your employer should make everything you need available.
Types of personal protective equipment include:
Gloves. These should be made of latex, rubber, or nitrile.
Goggles. Never skip your goggles when you’re in a situation where contaminated fluids could splash up and get into your eyes. It does happen—especially in medical emergencies and while cleaning up spills.
Face shield. No pair of goggles—no kind of personal protective equipment, to be honest—is infallible. The face shield gives you another level of protection on top of goggles, and protects you in cases where splashing risk is higher than usual.
Apron. An apron will shield your clothing from infected fluids. Without an apron, infected blood and other fluids could leak through the fabric of your clothes and make contact with your skin.
This concept mainly applies to workers in healthcare and laboratory settings. It pertains to the best practices for maintaining a hygienic workplace where exposure to bio-waste is a frequent risk. Training highlights include:
How to clean working surfaces and equipment. After contamination, all equipment and working surfaces should be quickly and thoroughly cleaned, using OSHA-approved cleaning materials.
How to dispose of contaminated sharps. One of the most dangerous items in a lab or healthcare setting is a contaminated needle or other sharp implement. These must be handled with care and disposed of safely. You’ll need special color-coded containers that won’t leak, and that needles and sharps can’t puncture through.
How to handle contaminated laundry. As little as possible, for one thing. You should avoid handling contaminated clothes, linens and other items any more than necessary, and dispose of them safely in a biohazard trash bag.
What to do if you’re exposed
If the worst happens and someone on your team is exposed to infected materials, OSHA-compliant bloodborne pathogen training will teach you how to respond.
You’ll learn how to clean the exposed area, flush out mucus membranes, and take other steps depending on where you’ve been exposed. It’s important to assume that any bodily fluids you come in contact with are infected, even if you’re not sure.
A comprehensive OSHA-compliant bloodborne pathogen training program will review first aid for coming into contact with bloodborne pathogens through needlestick injuries, eye-splashes, and exposed skin. You’ll also learn how to clean up minor spills.
Reporting, record-keeping, and follow-up response
OSHA requires all instances of exposure to be reported and documented as soon as possible. This is especially important in helping employers find and fix any problems with protocol that led to your exposure—and get you prompt medical treatment.
Employers are required to provide employees with a medical evaluation and follow-up. It should be totally confidential, provide any treatment and counseling required, and offered at no cost to you. Employers are also required to fulfill other stringent requirements that revolve around identifying the source of the infection.
OSHA-compliant training also covers your employer’s responsibilities for ensuring that workplaces are as safe as possible, and that risks are minimized. The topics covered in a compliant course may include engineering controls, hand-washing facilities, personal protective equipment, employee training, documentation requirements, and medical evaluations and follow-ups.
As an employee, you may not be responsible for these things in your own workplace. However, it’s your right to know what these requirements are and whether your employer is properly following them. This gives you the ability to report noncompliance or push within your organization for appropriate protective measures.
That’s why OSHA-compliant bloodborne pathogen training programs often include the measures that must be taken both by employers and employees.
Earn your OSHA-compliant bloodborne pathogen certification, and develop the skills and knowledge you need to keep yourself and your team safe from exposure—and implement stringent controls in the workplace.