Bloodborne Pathogens in Your Facility: Why You Should Care
Custodians and housekeepers may not be the first professions that come to mind when you think of dangerous jobs. Yet maintenance staffs, and all employees in every facility, have the potential to encounter deadly illnesses on a daily basis. Bloodborne pathogens can be contacted directly or indirectly in various ways, so it’s extremely important to understand the risks and know how to protect against contamination. By following established workplace standards including Universal Precautions, employees can help protect themselves and others against bloodborne pathogen transmission, thus creating a safer, healthier workplace for everyone.
What are Bloodborne Pathogens?
Simply put, bloodborne pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms that can be transmitted through blood or bodily fluids. Although there are many different bloodborne pathogens including malaria and syphilis, those specifically addressed by OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard include hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.
Why You Should Care About Bloodborne Pathogens
You should care because bloorborne pathogens are at the very least dangerous, and at worst, deadly. They can be contracted in the workplace in many and varied ways, yet infection is easy to prevent if proper precautions and procedures are followed. Being aware is the first step toward protection!
According to the American Red Cross viruses can enter the body through …
- Direct contact
- Indirect contact, for example when skin touches an object that contains infected blood like a soiled rag
- Respiratory droplet transmission – inhaled from an infected person through a cough or sneeze
- Vector-borne transmission – skin is penetrated by an infectious source, such as an insect bite
A Bit of Bloodborne Background
We take certain workplace procedures for granted, but many have not been in place until relatively recently. Before the later part of the twentieth century, the threat of bloodborne pathogens in a professional setting seemed remote. However the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, combined with the rise in cases of hepatitis B and hepatitis C during that time, highlighted the need for workplaces to have safeguards in place to protect employees. OSHA created the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard in 1991 for workers who may reasonably come into contact with infected blood or Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM), including bodily fluids. For custodians, housekeeping professionals and maintenance crews – this standard helps protect YOU.
Know the Standard
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires employers to establish a written exposure control plan designed to eliminate or minimize occupational exposure. The plan should outline what employers must to do to prevent the spread of infectious diseases including bloodborne pathogens, and it must be available to all employees. Are you familiar with yours? These important components should be included:
- Identify risks associated with employee positions and tasks
- Identify employees that are to receive training and what that training must consist of
- Describe the nature and type of training for each position
- Identify and list appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) and disinfectants needed
- Provide adequate record keeping for vaccinations, annual reviews/training, exposure incident reporting, and follow-up
The standard also requires the use of universal precautions, which means treating all blood and OPIM as if it is infectious. In order to help prevent infection, employers must provide appropriate PPE including gloves, eye protection and masks.
Protect Yourself and Others: Best Practices for Maintenance Professionals
Even with standards in place, maintenance professionals can still easily be exposed to deadly viruses through everyday occurrences like accidental injuries, soiled laundry or contacting a contaminated surface and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. Yet contamination can be prevented by using universal precautions and by following standards. Following are some best practices and tips for maintenance pros:
- Get Personal – Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for each task, including gloves, masks and eye protection. When removing contaminated gloves, be careful not to touch them to your skin. Use the inside-out method (see video below) and immediately place them in the trash. Wash your hands vigorously with soap for at least 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitizer. This article details proper handwashing technique if you need a refresher.
- Talk Trash – Never place hands in any container where the contents cannot be seen. Assume all trash receptacles contain “contaminated sharps” that could puncture the skin and cause infection. Do not use hands or feet to compress waste in a trash bag. Hold trash bags away from the body when carrying so that any contaminated sharps can’t pierce the skin. Dispose of regulated waste in appropriately marked containers. This includes any liquid or semi-liquid blood or OPIM, items caked with dried blood or OPIMs, and contaminated sharps, including needles, razors, knives, etc.
- Stay Sharp – Should you encounter sharps such as broken glass, needles, nails, or similar hazards with sharp edges or points, be sure to handle carefully. Do not touch directly, but rather sweep into a dustbin if possible. Needles should be disposed of in appropriately marked biohazard containers which hold contaminated materials.
- Protect the Entrance – Viruses can enter through your eyes, mouth, nose or open wounds. Take care to cover any cuts, scrapes, sores or other entry points to prevent contamination. Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, applying makeup or lip balm, or handling contact lenses when exposure is possible.
- Clean with Caution – Should you encounter blood or OPIM that needs to be removed, proceed with caution. Remember that even dried blood may contain virus particles. To clean an area, wear PPE and remove as much blood or fluid as possible with absorbent towels, then apply a disinfectant. This article includes a chart to help you decide what disinfectant to use in each situation for the greatest protection. Facility plans should clearly define which type of disinfectant is to be used in each part of the building as well as in the event of exposure, spill, gross contamination or incident. Follow label instructions for use, paying close attention to contact time required to kill pathogens. Dispose of any bloodborne waste in appropriate bags and receptacles. Clean and disinfect equipment used during removal including mops and buckets. Clean any clothes that may have been exposed. Leather shoes/boots and belts can be scrubbed with soap and hot water, while uniforms should be washed and dried according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Decent Exposure – If you are directly exposed to blood or OPIM, be sure to thoroughly flush your skin as soon as possible. Needle pricks should be washed with soap and water; splashes to the nose, or skin should be flushed, and eye splashes should be irrigated with saline or a sterile flush agent. Follow-up care should be sought as soon as possible.
You simply can’t be too careful when it comes to dealing with blood or other infectious materials in the workplace. Consistently following proper procedures—including treating all bodily fluids as infected—will offer the protection needed to safely perform maintenance tasks and minimize risks to others. For an added level of safety, Nyco offers on-the-job training in worker protection against bloodborne pathogens. Contact us today to discuss how we can keep your workplace safe.