In this video, we’ll discuss the risks commonly associated with bloodborne pathogens and provide some quick tips you can follow to limit the risk of exposure.
What are Bloodborne Pathogens?
So, what are Bloodborne Pathogens? Bloodborne pathogens are foreign microorganisms carried in human blood that can cause sickness and disease to other people. These most often include diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Exposure to these pathogens most commonly occurs when they are transmitted through breaks in the skin such as cuts, scrapes, or bites. Certain bloodborne pathogens can also live in saliva, vomit, and other bodily fluids. For example, a virus or bacterial infection could be transferred through saliva, but HIV and Hepatitis can not. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls bodily fluids that are not blood as Other Potentially Infectious Materials or, (OPIM). If any of these contaminated bodily fluids touch your eyes, mouth or nose, or an open wound of any kind—even something as small as a hangnail or a paper cut—bloodborne pathogens can enter your system. It’s important to note though that this does not mean you are automatically infected, however, you’ve simply been put at risk of infection.
You can't predict whether people carry a bloodborne pathogen by the way they look or behave, in fact, anyone can be a carrier, and they may not even know it. That's why it’s important to treat every situation as though the person is a bloodborne pathogen carrier, no matter how well you know him or her, and no matter how remotely the person fits the idea you have of someone who may be infected.
According to the CDC, a total of 5.6 million workers are at risk each year for exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Knowing this, it’s important to take extra precautions when needed.
Universal Precautions state that all human blood and bodily fluids are to be treated as if known to be infectious with bloodborne pathogens to reduce the risk of exposure. One of the best ways to prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens is to follow Universal Precautions by receiving the proper annual training, treating all blood and OPIM as if it were contaminated, washing your hands regularly, wearing proper PPE such as gloves and safety glasses, and properly disposing of any clothing, bandages or protective equipment that may have been contaminated. You also want to pay attention to any special labels and signs, such as the universal biohazard symbol, that may warn you of risks or contaminated materials. It’s important to take these signs and symbols seriously.
When working in the field, your hands are the most likely part of your body to come into contact with a bloodborne pathogen. In these scenarios, protective gloves are your best protection. When wearing gloves, always inspect them to make sure they're 100 percent intact before using. Over a long period of time, some gloves can break down and no longer serve as a protective barrier. Always remove your gloves as soon as possible after they've become contaminated, or if they become torn or punctured. Remember to also wash your hands immediately after removing gloves, or use hand sanitizer at the first opportunity.
Additionally, NO ONE should ever wear gloves when driving trucks or operating vehicle controls. This spreads contaminates throughout the truck surfaces where other people do not typically wear gloves. ALWAYS take the gloves off before entering your truck and touching door handles or any vehicle controls. It’s also important to remember that you should never eat, drink, smoke, handle glasses or contacts, or apply Chapstick before washing your hands.
Along with wearing PPE, always be sure to practice good housekeeping to further reduce risk of exposure. A clean work area is an uncontaminated work area. Always disinfect potentially contaminated equipment while disposing of any contaminated medical PPE as soon as it’s been used.
If at any time you believe you were exposed to a bloodborne pathogen, your first action should include washing the exposed area with soap and water. If contact was made to your eyes, you’ll need to flush them with saline and water or at a nearby eyewash station. Once cleaned, you’ll need to report your exposure to dispatch as outlined in our employee manual under the employee safety policy. You’ll then be directed to a see a certified healthcare professional for further evaluation.
Needles and sharps present a known hazard to those working in sanitation. Everyone should follow protective work practices designed to eliminate the possibility of cuts or punctures. This includes never picking up broken glass, metal shavings or other "sharps" by hand. You’ll also want to avoid bending or breaking used blades. Never try to recap any needles and always avoid reaching into a garbage can without first checking for sharps!
If you should encounter a medical syringe or needle when working in the field, always notify dispatch or your manager immediately as needles should never be pumped or removed without the proper tools. Dispatch will then put in a work order to exchange the unit so that it will be properly disposed of in the yard.
Yard employees must always use a grabber to remove the sharps and dispose of them in properly labeled biohazard containers. They should NEVER use their hands, even if they have gloves, to remove needles or sharps. Once disposed, the grabber and any other piece of equipment that came in contact with the needle should be properly disinfected.
As mentioned earlier in this video, Hepatitis B is a commonly known bloodborne pathogen that one can be exposed to while in the workplace, especially if you’re working around blood or other bodily fluids. Hepatitis B is a disease that inflames the liver and can lead to liver damage and sometimes cancer.
What makes this pathogen so dangerous is it can often survive outside the body for up to a week and can be spread by exposure to blood or other bodily fluids. Additionally, not all newly infected people can experience the typical symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice.
Although hazardous, it’s important to note though that the risk of acquiring Hepatitis B while working in the sanitation industry is no higher than it would be if you worked at your local bank or school. Regardless, we do take it seriously here.
The good news is that Hepatitis B vaccinations are available to all labor employees of Service Sanitation at no cost. These vaccine shots can prevent hepatitis B and the serious consequences of the hepatitis B disease should you ever be exposed to it. Should you choose to take advantage of this free vaccine, please contact your manager.