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What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Pathogens are contagious microorganisms, such as viruses or bacteria, that can result in fatal illnesses. These microorganisms can harm the host’s health and way of life, just like a parasite can. Many workers who operate in locations where they may have a higher chance of exposure to pathogens face a serious health risk.

Different mechanisms can be used for disease transmission from person to person depending on the properties of the pathogen. The human bloodstream contains pathogens known as bloodborne pathogens (BBPs). They are called “bloodborne” in this situation because they spread by touch or exposure to infected blood. The possible transmission of bloodborne infections by other bodily fluids will be covered later.

You may be surprised to learn that there is only a grand total of roughly 20 types. Out of those, only three are considered to be the most common and are directly found throughout the bloodborne pathogens standards written by OSHA. These three are:

  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Bloodborne pathogens pose a hazard to both public health and human lives as a whole. In the United States, there are thought to be 3 million exposures to bloodborne infections every year. Bloodborne infections commonly happen in the majority of workplace settings when a person cuts themselves accidentally and comes into touch with infectious blood. Blood-to-blood contact is what this is and will be discussed later.

Is Training Required?

If you are an employee who works with or around potentially infectious blood or other bodily fluids, then yes. Bloodborne pathogens safety training is a requirement.

Bloodborne pathogen certification training is very important when it comes to the safety of employees in the workplace, especially for those who are at high risk of exposure. Not only is it the best course of action, but safety training for BBPs is also required. In fact, OSHA has its own separate standard for bloodborne pathogens due to the health and safety risks that exposure presents.

Bloodborne Pathogens Standards

Every employee has the right to a secure workplace. Because of this, OSHA’s standard for the general industry particularly addresses bloodborne diseases and needlesticks. Injuries from needlesticks are wounds brought on by needles that unintentionally pierce the skin. Every employee has access to safeguards under these laws to defend themselves from health risks associated with BBPs at work. Visit our Bloodborne Pathogens Page for more details regarding the criteria for bloodborne pathogens, including what must be included in an exposure control plan according to OSHA and what the different types of exposure are.

Other Potentially Infectious Materials

The term other potentially infectious materials, or OPIM, refers to other bodily fluids that could be contaminated with pathogenic blood. Some of these bodily fluids could include:

Unless visibly contaminated with blood, these bodily fluids are not considered OPIMs. However, if they are contaminated with blood, they present a risk of exposure to any employee who works with or around them.

Exposure Control Plan

An Exposure Control Plan (ECP) is the key to mitigating the risk of exposure within a workplace. An ECP is a written document that contains procedures for preventing and responding to the exposure of bloodborne pathogens. Employers are required to establish an ECP for their workplace if there is a reasonable chance of employees being exposed to infected blood or other body fluids.

Every Exposure Control Plan is dependent upon the specific hazards within individual worksites. However, every ECP must have at least the following:

Employers must update their ECP once a year or whenever experts release new or edited workplace procedures. They must ensure that employees are aware of any changes or task modifications and should also update the ECP to reflect changes in technology that eliminate or reduce the risk of bloodborne pathogen exposure.

Exposure Determination

Exposure determination is a list of positions in the workplace that put employees at risk of BBP exposure. This list is provided by an employer for employees, and it should include the level of risk for these specific jobs. The list should also include any tasks, procedures, and other activities that put employees at risk.

Employees should not eat, drink, or do anything that involves touching a mucous membrane while working in potentially infectious areas. Do not store food or drink in the same areas where blood or other bodily fluids may be present.

Employees should expect that an employer has a written plan for exposure incidents. Employers should always determine the risk of exposure with the assumption that the employees have nothing to protect themselves from the bloodborne pathogen exposure. This will help employers to create the best reaction plan for when an employee ends up in a situation where they are exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is always the last line of defense against hazards in the workplace. In regards to bloodborne pathogens, PPE can mean the difference between staying healthy and contracting a chronic disease. The bloodborne pathogens OSHA standard, as well as the CDC, recommends PPE such as: