Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that are transmitted through the bloodstream. The viruses that cause Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are two examples of bloodborne pathogens. For a bloodborne pathogen to be spread, the bodily fluids of an infected person must enter the bloodstream of another person. The most common cause of transmission in the workplace is when an infected person’s blood enters another person’s bloodstream through an open wound.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard 29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(1)(i) states that “Each employer having an employee(s) with occupational exposure as defined by paragraph (b) of this section shall establish a written Exposure Control Plan designed to eliminate or minimize employee exposure.” Occupational exposure, as defined by paragraph (b), is “reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee’s duties.” There are good reasons to provide workers with a safety training program about bloodborne pathogens. First, anybody can be exposed during an accident or even from close contact with someone who has an open sore. Second, OSHA has cited contractors for failing to provide education in this area, specifically when employees are required to be certified in first aid/CPR. And third, business-owned facilities, such as shops and offices, are covered under the general industry regulations and are therefore subject to OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard.
In addition, OSHA’s General Duty Clause states:
Section 5.(a) “Each employer (1) shall furnish to each of his employees’ employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”
(b) “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.”
Section 5(a)(1) clearly states the employer’s responsibility to eliminate all workplace hazards. If any employee is required to be certified in first aid, he or she may very well be considered to have an “occupational exposure.” If first aid or CPR certification is not required, it is possible that occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens is not present; however, it is still to an employer’s benefit to provide training and have a written exposure plan addressing bloodborne pathogens. Not only will employees be made aware of potentially critical information, but complicated arguments over the interpretation of “general duty” will be avoided, as well.
Listed below are some terms that appear in this section and are critical to the understanding of bloodborne pathogens.
Bloodborne pathogens: Microorganisms that are present in human blood and can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to, HBV and HIV.
Engineering controls: Controls that isolate or remove bloodborne pathogens from the workplace.
Exposure incident: A specific eye, mouth, other mucous membrane, nonintact skin, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that result from the performance of an employee’s duties.
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV): The most common form of Hepatitis; a liver disease that initially causes inflammation of the liver and frequently leads to more serious conditions, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. HBV is usually transmitted through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. After exposure, it can take two to six months for HBV to develop. The initial symptoms of HBV infection are like those of a mild case of the flu: fatigue, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and nausea.
As the disease progresses, jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and darkened urine will occur. Although there is no cure, vaccination directly after contact (well before symptoms appear) can prevent infection.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): A bloodborne pathogen that attacks the immune system. Symptoms of HIV can include weakness, fever, sore throat, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and some forms of cancer. Many people can go years before showing any symptoms. HIV eventually may lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the breakdown of the immune system. Currently, there is no vaccination against HIV and no proven cure. However, there have been some major breakthroughs in recent years in controlling HIV and significantly delaying the onset of AIDS.
Other potentially infectious materials: (1) Human body fluids, including semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid; any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood; and any combination of body fluids; (2) Any unfixed tissue or organ (other than intact skin) from a human (living or dead).
Source Individual: Any person, living or dead, whose blood or other potentially infectious materials may be a source of occupational exposure to an employee. In the construction industry, “source individuals” are mainly limited to trauma victims.
Universal Precautions: Treating all human blood and body fluids as if they are known to be infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens.
Workplace Controls: Controls that reduce the likelihood of exposure by altering the manner in which a task is performed.