Bloodborne pathogens: Making sense of OSHA's requirements

Date Posted: 02/03/2019
Bloodborne Pathogens

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms present in blood that can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to, hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

OSHA requires employers to protect employees who can reasonably be anticipated to come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) such as unfixed human tissues and certain body fluids.

While most employers associate exposure to bloodborne pathogens with healthcare workers, there are many other occupations, including first aidteam members, housekeeping personnel in some industries, and various other workers who may be at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. The standard at 1910.1030 applies to all occupational exposures (as defined) in general industry.

How does the standard define occupational exposure?

Occupational exposure means reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or OPIM that may result from the performance of an employee's duties. Note: This term does not include Good Samaritan acts.

The standard defines parenteral as "piercing mucous membranes or the skin barrier through such events as needlesticks, human bites, cuts, and abrasions."

What do employers have to do?

In general, the standard requires employers to:

  • Implement a written exposure control plan for the worksite with details on employee protection measures
  • Update the plan annually to reflect changes in tasks, procedures, and positions that affect occupational exposure as well as technological changes that eliminate or reduce occupational exposure
  • Implement the use of universal precautions
  • Identify and use engineering controls
  • Identify and ensure the use of work practice controls
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, gowns, eye protection, and masks
  • Make available hepatitis B vaccinations to all workers with occupational exposure
  • Make available post-exposure evaluation and follow-up to any occupationally exposed worker who experiences an exposure incident
  • Use labels and signs to communicate hazards
  • Provide information and training to workers
  • Maintain worker medical and training records

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