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Bloodborne Pathogens

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workplace safety training and bloodborne pathogens training for many industries, all employees benefit from guidance on protecting themselves from disease transmission in the workplace. All it takes is a few simple precautions to keep you and your staff healthy and safe.

Bloodborne pathogens are bacteria and viruses present in human blood and body fluids that can cause disease in humans. Of primary concern are hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Although there is a vaccine against hepatitis B virus, no vaccine exists for hepatitis C or HIV. Thatís why it is so important to abide by these guidelines.

For any disease to be spread, four conditions must be met:

  • A pathogen is present
  • There is enough of the pathogen present to cause disease
  • The pathogen passes through the correct entry site
  • A person is susceptible to the pathogen.

Most exposures to bloodborne pathogens in the workplace occur through direct contact. For example, direct transmission could occur if infected blood from one coworker splashes into the eye of another coworker, or by directly touching body fluids of an infected person. Indirect contact occurs when a person touches an object that contains the blood or another body fluid of an infected person, and that fluid then enters his or her own body at a correct entry site.

Preventing disease transmission in the workplace begins with preparation and planning. There are FOUR main precautions you can take to effectively protect you and your coworkers from harmful pathogens.

Personal Hygiene
Good personal hygiene habits, as simple as frequent hand washing, can effectively prevent disease transmission by cleansing your hands of germs from contaminated surfaces. In addition, you can protect yourself by removing jewelry, especially rings and wristwatches, when working in an area that has a risk of exposure to bacteria. If soap and water arenít available, use waterless antibacterial hand cleansers as a temporary substitute.

Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment includes specialized clothing, equipment and supplies that keep you from having direct contact with infected materials. Some examples are breathing barriers, disposable gloves and face masks. To reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting an infectious disease, remember to change gloves before giving care to a different person, and dispose of them in a proper container.

Work Practice Controls
Establish proper procedures for employees who work in an environment with a risk of infection, such as: dispose of sharp equipment or needles in puncture-resistant containers; clean and disinfect any equipment or work surface that may have been soiled by blood or bodily fluids; do not eat, drink, smoke, handle contact lenses or apply make-up in areas where exposure to infectious materials is possible; and remove and dispose of soiled protective clothing as soon as possible.

Biohazard Signage and Labeling
Make sure all employees are aware of equipment or areas that pose a risk of disease transmission, as well as ways to prevent it. This is easily accomplished with clear, visible signage and labeling. Identify specific equipment that should be used to clean up hazardous spills or accidents, and keep careful records of any such incidents.

By following these guidelines, you can help create a safer work environment for you and your employees. For more detailed training, contact your local Red Cross chapter for information about a Bloodborne Pathogens course and other health and safety training options.

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