The appropriate use of personal protective equipment is mandated by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standards. This requires employers to provide proper personal protective equipment and clothing free of charge to employees. Employees with occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens must receive extensive training.
Those who work in the field of healthcare, i.e., medical, dental, nursing homes, EMS, and others such as law enforcement, are trained to take Universal Precaution: the approach to infection control with regard to human blood and potentially infectious materials as if they were known to be infectious. About 8,700 health care workers each year are infected with HBV, and 200 die from the infection. It is estimated that 5.6 million workers in the health care industry are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, such as:
- Hepatitis B, which is more transmittable than HIV; affects liver.
- HIV; Human Immunodeficiency Virus;
- Hepatitis C. This is the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States, most often caused by needlestick injuries. If not treated properly, it can lead to active liver disease.
Gloves, masks, gowns, lab coats, face shields, goggles, and glasses with sideshields should be utilized as needed, as they drastically reduce health risks to workers. Other types of PPE that may be required are shoe covers, surgical caps and hoods. This gear should be readily accessible to employees, and available in appropriate sizes. The PPE must be removed by the employee before leaving the work area or if the PPE becomes contaminated. The employer is responsible to clean or launder clothing and equipment, and repair or replace it as necessary. Hand washing facilities should also be available to employees, and designated areas should be assigned for washing, storage or discarding of PPE.
Should an employee’s skin or mucous membranes come into contact with blood, he or she is to wash with soap and water and flush eyes with water as soon as possible. In addition, workers must wash their hands immediately after removing protective equipment. If soap and water are not available immediately, employers may provide other hand washing measures such as moist towelettes. Employees still must wash with soap and water as soon as possible. They must refrain from eating, drinking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses in areas where they may be exposed to blood or potentially infectious materials.
Employers must have Exposure Control Plans and provide post-exposure prophylaxis and follow-up treatment of workers’ exposure incidents.