The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) bloodborne pathogens standard, 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1030, applies to all persons who may reasonably anticipate contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs) in the course of their employment. Within the standard, OPIMs are defined as, “semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood, and all body fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids.” Occupational exposure means reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral (needlestick) contact with blood or OPIMs.
The core requirement of the regulation is the creation of a written exposure control plan that describes how the employer will eliminate or minimize occupational exposures to blood or OPIMs. At a minimum, the following three elements must be present in an exposure control plan: (29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(1)(ii)):
The exposure control plan must be updated annually to reflect changes in tasks, procedures, and positions that affect occupational exposure, and also technological changes that eliminate or reduce occupational exposure.
Other key requirements of the standard also include:
Employee Education and Training
Annual training covering the following is required (29 CFR 1910.1030(g)(2)(vii)):
Preventing Exposure - Hierarchy of Hazard Controls
Preventing exposure to bloodborne pathogens is critical. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH’s) hierarchy of hazard controls, the first strategy is to implement engineering measures to eliminate or control the hazard at its source. The next level of control is administrative and work practice controls. Administrative controls are measures aimed at reducing employee exposure to hazards. Examples of administrative controls include the use of relief workers and worker rotation. Safe work practices include general workplace rules and operation-specific rules. When engineering controls are not feasible (while they are being instituted or in an emergency situation), PPE must be used.
Engineering and Administrative Control Measures
Employers must take appropriate preventative measures to prevent occupational exposure to blood or OPIMs. Engineering controls include biohazard fume hoods, puncture-resistant sharps containers, biohazard waste containers, mechanical pipette devices and others to permanently remove the hazard or help isolate the worker from exposure. These also include needleless devices, needles with sheaths and blunt suture needles. As new devices become available due to updated technologies, they should be incorporated as engineering controls.
Work practice controls include hand-washing policies, sharps handling procedures, proper waste disposal techniques and more to reduce the likelihood of exposure through the alteration of the manner in which the task is performed (29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)).
Employers must provide PPE to employees to minimize the risk of exposure to blood or OPIMs. PPE is appropriate only if it does not permit blood or OPIMs to pass through or reach the employees' outer clothing, undergarments, skin, eyes, mouth or other mucous membranes under normal conditions of use. Following is a list of suggested PPE and when it should be used:
Once employees receive training, HBV vaccinations should be made available to those who run the risk of exposure to contaminated blood and OPIMs (29 CFR 1910.1030(f)(2)).
Post-Exposure Evaluation and Follow-Up
Employers must provide a confidential medical evaluation for any employees involved in an exposure incident. The purpose of this evaluation is to document the exposure route and circumstances surrounding the incident, blood testing, HIV/HBV status of source and appropriate medical and psychological treatment (29 CFR 1910.1030(f)(3))
All blood or OPIMs contaminated items that could release infectious materials must be placed in appropriate sharps containers or closable, color-coded or properly labeled leak-proof biohazard waste containers or bags. OPIM waste must be disposed of in accordance with federal, state and local regulations (29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)).
Communication of Hazards
Warning labels must be attached to all containers used for the storage or transport of potentially infectious materials. The labels must be orange or red-orange with the biohazard symbol in a contrasting color. Red containers or bags can be substituted for warning labels (29 CFR 1910.1030(g)).
Housekeeping and Laundry Practices
Employers must create a schedule for periodic cleaning and appropriate disinfecting to ensure that the worksite is kept clean and sanitary. Contaminated laundry must be placed and transported in properly labeled or color-coded bags and containers (29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)), (29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)).
The employer must maintain medical and training records for each employee who faces the possibility of being exposed or who has been occupationally exposed to a bloodborne pathogen (29 CFR 1910.1030(h)). Employers are also required to establish and maintain a sharps injury log.
29 CFR 1910.1030, Bloodboorne Pathogens Standard
OSHA Fact Sheet, OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 2011
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Bloodborne Infectious Disease Page
Q: What are sharps disposal containers?
A: A sharps container is a place to deposit sharp instruments (e.g., needles or cutting tools/blades) for disposal. These containers are puncture-resistant, leak-proof on the sides and bottom, closable and properly labeled or color-coded. They assure a higher level of safety than disposal bags.
Q: Can biohazard bags or containers be both labeled and color-coded?
A: Yes, OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard states that containers must be either properly labeled or color-coded. Having both simply exceed the intent of the regulation.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
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