Tips to Protect Employees From Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens
Providing equipment such as gloves and goggles, offering training on contamination prevention and implementing related practices and policies at your operation will ensure the health and safety of employees.
TELL — Report the incident immediately to your supervisor or human resources department. Ask for a dated copy of the report (even if it is only handwritten).
Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Here are the specifics of this responsibility.
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT — Any employee at risk of being exposed to bloodborne pathogens must be provided with the protective equipment necessary to keep them safe from exposure. This equipment includes gloves, goggles and, if required, breathing masks or barriers for CPR.
EDUCATION — Not all professions require bloodborne pathogen education and prevention training.
A call to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) may or may not give you the answer you are looking for. It appears as though OSHA looks at a number of factors when determining whether an employer does or does not have to comply. For example, if you offer voluntary CPR/first aid training to your employees, they may not be required to take bloodborne pathogen training. If you have designated first aid responders
within your organization, you probably fall under the training requirements.
Many of you know your employees’ occupational exposure risk. If you have personnel who are routinely or even occasionally exposed to blood or body fluids in the execution of their duties, you may want to consider offering protective equipment and training to these employees.
ENGINEERING CONTROLS — Engineering controls help to protect employees from bloodborne pathogen contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens in the workplace. Here’s an example of engineering controls:
An employee using his leather work gloves realizes he has come in contact with body fluids and the gloves are contaminated. Two controls should be in place to protect the employee. First, knowing his exposure risk, the employer should have a spare set of gloves on hand so that the operator can complete his job. Second, the company should have a procedure for disposing of or cleaning the soiled gloves.
WORK PRACTICES — Setting standard practices for preventing disease transmission is a very important part of an employer’s responsibility in protecting employees.
In the case of the body shop previously mentioned, good work practices would include establishing a policy requiring workers to wrap plastic around seats pulled from a wrecked vehicle and prohibiting them from sitting on the seats, even with the plastic cover in place.
Providing employees with their own toolboxes is another good practice. If they share tools, have a policy in place for cleaning and decontaminating tools, especially after an accident or injury. Moreover, make sure employees know the importance of disposing of or cleaning contaminated personal protective equipment.
Finally, offer a course in bloodborne pathogen training. It is an excellent way to communicate the importance of preventing disease transmission and protecting your company from a huge liability/workers compensation claim.
HAVE A WRITTEN POLICY AND REPORTING PROCEDURES IN PLACE
— As I previously mentioned, implement policies related to bloodborne pathogens at your operation. Start small, then expand on the policies as new issues surface. Communicate with your people. Make sure they know the reporting procedures and the importance of reporting any possible contamination.
OSHA has templates for creating your own company bloodborne pathogens policy and/or procedure. Simply download the forms, fill in the blanks with your company name, etc., print them out and you’re good to go. The information can be obtained by calling the regional OSHA office in Philadelphia at (215) 861-4900.
Training, Policies Are Worthwhile Investments
I am a business of one, but if I did have employees, I can assure you — they would be trained on bloodborne pathogen risks and contamination prevention, and my company would have a policy in place. It’s the right thing to do for a business, its employees and the employer. And just imagine how good it would feel to know that your operation is in compliance should OSHA officials decide to visit.
Invest an hour for setting up your program, distribute the information to your employees and arrange for a 30-minute bloodborne pathogen education and prevention class. The investment is small, but the dividends to you and your employees will be huge.
John Schmidt owns Safety Outsourcing. He offers courses in CPR, first aid, AED (automated external defibrillator) and highway safety training and the American Heart Association’s course in bloodborne pathogen training throughout central and southeastern Pennsylvania. For more information on Safety Outsourcing, visitwww.safetyoutsourcing.net. Prior to starting his own business, Schmidt was supervisor of instruction for the American Red Cross in Philadelphia, safety manager for Krapf Bus Companies and a professional EMT and firefighter for over 20 years.