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Bloodborne Pathogens - Protecting Workers

Every year municipalities, just like any other business, must train their employees about bloodborne pathogens. The following information can assist you in keeping your employees from contracting a bloodborne illness.

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious micro-organisms in human blood that include, but are not limited to, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. The can infect a healthy body through contact with blood and other body fluids, secretions, and excretions (except sweat). In many cases, contact with infected fluids happens via used needles or other contaminated sharp objects that have not been properly disposed of or properly cleaned and disinfected.

Exposure Control Plan

All organizations where employees could be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) must follow the bloodborne pathogens standard. Employers are responsible for determining which jobs, tasks, and procedures involve an occupational exposure. According to OSHA standards, occupational exposure is a “reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or OPIM that may result from performance of an employee’s duties.” If your workplace carries a risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, you are required to develop an exposure control plan to minimize or eliminate occupational exposures. Start by identifying all the hazards workers may be exposed to. This exposure determination needs to contain a list of jobs with potential exposure and list of procedures that could result in worker exposure. Based on this determination, you should design and implement adequate safety controls using training, providing PPE, and administrative or engineering controls.

Implementing Controls

Elimination of hazards is not feasible in some workplaces. In these situations, it is important to follow basic controls. These controls can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Use “universal precautions”; treat all blood or OPIMs as if they were infected.

  • Implement safe practice controls; update and redesign them as needed.

  • Practice safe decontamination; thoroughly wash and disinfect.

  • Provide personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and specialized clothing if needed. Remember employers are responsible for repairing or replacing PPE when required.

  • Implement engineering controls such as sharps disposal containers or needleless systems.

  • Ensure that hepatitis B immunizations are available to all workers, that they have been properly trained and understand how they could be exposed, that they know how to protect themselves from exposure, and that they know what to do if they have potentially been exposed.

  • Use warning labels and signs on containers and in areas where contaminated materials may be stored.

  • Keep and update worker medical and training records regularly.

  • Keep and update a sharps injury log.

Other Employer Responsibilities

After any exposure incident, arrange for a post-exposure medical evaluation and make it available to affected workers. Document the reasons for exposure and test the source individual (the person whose blood or body fluids contacted the worker) for hepatitis B or hepatitis C or HIV infections. Employers are also responsible for offering the exposed worker post-exposure prophylaxis and counseling.

The municipal exposure control plan must be reviewed and updated annually to reflect any workplace changes that might affect safe work procedures. Employers should also make changes to engineering and practice controls based on input from workers.

Workers must receive regular training that covers all aspects of the exposure control plan including who to report incidents to and how to decontaminate after a potential exposure. All new hires must be trained concerning how they could be exposed in their work environment and what to do if they think they have been exposed.

Although engineering controls are the primary method of reducing exposure, behavioral training also aims to achieve this goal by changing how workers perform tasks. When providing training, consider a program that deals with the human factors. This will increase employee self-awareness and help workers see how situations like fatigue and complacency may put them, their co-workers, or families at greater risk of contracting an illness from a bloodborne pathogen. Safety needs to be addressed from all possible angles to provide workers with the best protection available.

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