Many pathogens are existing in the healthcare workplace, but there are three which are the most common and potentially the most troubling— HCV (hepatitis C virus), HBV (hepatitis B virus), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
How Do They Spread?
The CDC warns of two possible ways to expose yourself to such pathogens:
- Mucocutaneous injuries – injuries where a healthcare employee gets exposed to the pathogen via contact with tissue, blood, or other possibly infectious bodily fluids.
- Percutaneous injuries – injuries where a healthcare employee gets exposed to the pathogen through a sharp object.
How to Prevent the Spread of Blood Pathogens
Universal precautions are the bulwarks in preventing the spread of such pathogens. Universal and standard precautions treat all blood and other bodily fluids as possibly infectious. Universal precautions that prevent the spread of blood pathogens involve using handwashing, in addition to using barriers or protective equipment like masks, gowns, and gloves.
OSHA’s Requirements to Prevent Transmission
- Exposure Control Plan – An employer should have a written strategy that states how to minimize exposure to blood pathogens. The strategy should be specific to job descriptions and tasks. Procedures and tasks should be updated every year to reflect operational and additional changes in the workplace.
- Clear Labels and Warning Signs – Containers of used sharps, regulated waste, freezers and refrigerators that contain blood, contaminated reusable sharps, and other possibly infectious material, contaminated laundry, and equipment should be labeled or put into a red bag.
- Controls – Controls involve the provision and direction on using protective equipment like gowns, masks, and gloves, the provision of training on the correct use of protective equipment, the enforcement and monitoring of using safe practices, training on ways to clean contaminated equipment and surfaces and the provision of appropriate and safe waste containers for disposing of sharps and other possibly-infected supplies.
- Housekeeping – Those suggestions include specific steps like the mandate that surfaces be decontaminated with a 10% bleach solution or other disinfectant, requirements for sharps containers, the correct handling of contaminated debris, procedures for decontaminating clinical supplies and equipment, as well as prohibitions concerning the intake of beverages and food in a space in which there was a contamination.
- Hepatitis B Vaccinations – The vaccination should be given for free to all employees whose duty is such that they might be at risk of exposure to the pathogen. Workers who do not want the vaccination might still choose to get it at no fee at a later time.
- Post –Exposure Response – Requirements from OSHA state that healthcare organizations keep a log of sharp injuries, in addition to evaluating the risk of infection to employees, offer treatment, as well as explain options and give continuous observation of blood pathogens to determine if the infection exists.
- Record Keeping and Training – The requirement for a blood pathogens course is the key to a good safety culture. Occupationally exposed staff should be trained at least once per year on methods of prevention.
We hope by helping your organization meet the aforementioned requirements, you can improve your safety culture and minimize risks to employees and patients.