Every single year, people from across the United States become infected by serious bloodborne pathogens. Some of these viruses and bacteria result in diseases that are treatable but other bloodborne infections can result in chronic conditions that cannot be treated and can only be managed.
Everyone who has a reasonable risk of occupational exposure to human blood and other body fluids in the workplace needs to have a general understanding of what can be done to protect against infection by bloodborne pathogens in the first instance.
The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard outlines what employers must do to reasonably protect their workers, which includes having an exposure control plan, providing bloodborne pathogen training to workers and having post-exposure procedures in place.
The BBP standard ensures that workers will be adequately protected – in this primer and companion to official OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens certification we take a look at the basics of what you can do to protect yourself against bloodborne pathogens.
What exactly are Bloodborne Pathogens?
Bloodborne pathogens can be defined as:
Currently, the most common bloodborne pathogens in the USA are:
- Hepatitis B (HBV)
- Hepatitis C (HCV)
How Bloodborne Pathogens Enter the Body
Bloodborne pathogens can enter the human body in several ways including, but not limited to:
- Open cuts
- Skin Abrasions
- Needle sticks and cuts
- Mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, nose
- Accidental punctures
- Unprotected sex
Safety Practices to mitigate Bloodborne Pathogen risk
There are safety practices that should be employed to lessen the risk of a person being infected by pathogens. By strictly following these safety practices, the risks of being infected by a bloodborne pathogen can be reduced to almost zero.
At the end of the day, the only sure way of preventing a bloodborne pathogen-related infection is to avoid all exposure to human blood and bodily fluids. This is obviously not possible for employees who risk exposure at work – and this is exactly the reason the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen certification standard was created.
However, there are things that can be done outside of the workplace to reduce exposure risk. For example, condoms can be helpful in greatly reducing the risk of transferring an STD during sexual activity. The risks can also significantly reduced if a person is in a monogamous relationship.
Personal Protective Equipment & Bloodborne Pathogens
In the 1990s, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention created a number of protocols to protect against the transfer of bloodborne pathogens. This action by the CDC was taken because of the AIDS pandemic that was causing the deaths of thousands in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
As part of these protocols, the CDC and other agencies and organizations came up with personal protective equipment, or PPE, standards that are still used today.
These standards were expanded upon by OSHA when they introduced the Bloodborne Pathogens standard and currently, the OSHA PPE guidelines are the gold standard.
By using these types of personal protective equipment, it’s possible to substantially reduce the risk of being infected by bloodborne pathogens.
Standard PPE includes:
- Eye goggles or other protective eyewear
- A mask or respirator
- Single-use disposable gloves
- An apron, smock, or uniform
What to Do If Exposed to Blood or Other Bodily Fluids
If you think that you have been exposed to blood or another type of bodily fluid, you must take immediate action.
Wash or flush the area
The first step in this process is to thoroughly wash the area of exposure if the location is somewhere on the skin. Use soap and water and wash thoroughly for several minutes. You can apply a disinfectant after this, but washing with soap and water is the most important.
If the exposure happens via the mucous membranes of your eyes, you need to flush your eyes with fresh water immediately. Different protocols suggest different timeframes for flushing eyes following exposure to blood or other bodily fluids. Flushing between 10 and 20 minutes is a reasonable timeframe.
Seek medical attention
Once you have taken the immediate steps required post-exposure to blood or other bodily fluids, you need to seek medical attention.
Your physician will make an evaluation and determine whether or not you require additional interventions. They will also make a decision as to whether lab testing is required, and when that will happen. You need to keep in mind that the evidence of infection by some types of bloodborne pathogens are not going to be immediately known.
Make sure the exposure stops with you
After suspected exposure to blood or other bodily fluids, you need to pay attention to the type of contact you have with other people until you receive a clean bill of health.
The reality is that if you have been infected with a bloodborne pathogen, you put others at risk in situations such as those involving sexual relations. This is especially relevant regarding one or other types of hepatitis referenced earlier as well as the HIV virus.
There is no way to completely avoid potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens particularly if you are employed in a job that carries a risk of occupational exposure. The good news is that due to the OSHA bloodborne pathogens certification standard, employers are required to provide all protection required to reasonably limit the chance of exposure. This includes the provision of bloodborne pathogens training free to all employees.
To get your bloodborne pathogens certificate online just sign up and take our free course.
For employers who need to provide OSHA bloodborne pathogens certification to their employees or contractors, you can do it all in a few minutes with our bloodborne pathogens online group training.