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Biohazards in the Workplace

Posted by Joshua Fleishman on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 @ 09:46 AM

Biohazards?! That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie or better left to somebody in a white coat in a lab somewhere, right?


Biohazards are anything of biological origin that can cause harm to humans. So, although you WOULD find these things in a laboratory or in a sci fi flick, you also become contaminated with them on a pretty regular basis even at your workplace. 

Ask yourself these questions....Biohazard Sneeze

"Did anyone sneeze around me today and NOT cover their nose/mouth?"

"Have I flown in an airplane recently?"

"How often are the door knobs cleaned in your workplace bathroom?"

"Has a co-worker asked you to assist putting a Band-Aid on?"

If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes." then chances are, you were exposed to a biohazard or biohazardous material(s). "Bio" means life and "hazard" is something potentially dangerous. 

In an era of biohazards, first aid training is a must. Of course we see the need for trained responders, first aid kits and AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) in the workplace, but do you know how to wrap a gauze bandage? Do you see the need to wear disposable gloves? Despite causing serious or lethal disease and sometimes death, bloodborne pathogens and other biohazards command little attention from most people. 

Bloodborne pathogens are pathogenic microorganisms that are present in human blood and can be transmitted and cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). These are examples addressed by the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard 29 CFR 1910.1030. Malaria (mosquito-borne infectious disease) and syphilis (sexually transmitted infection) are also caused by bloodborne pathogens. Body fluids (other than blood; saliva, urine, etc.) may also transmit diesases. Many of these diseases are infectious and should be addressed not only for your health but to prevent the spread of infection to others in the workplace and beyond.

There are six common ways in which infectious agents spread:

On-to-one contact Direct Direct physical contact between infected individual and susceptible host. (Shaking hands)
  Indirect Infectious agent deposited onto an object or surface and survives long enough to transfer to another person who subsequently touches the object. (Cell phones, shared phones, light switches, door knobs)
  Droplet  Contact, but transmission is through the air. (Sneezing, coughing)
Non-contact Airborne  Transmissions via aerosols. (Ventilation systems)
  Vehicle  A single contaminated source spreads the infection to multiple hosts. (Outbreak from infected food)
  Vectorborne  Transmission through insect or animal vectors. (Mosquitos/malaria)

So how to avoid we avoid spread of infectious disease? Well, the simplest answer is to maintain good hygiene (wash hands/body), be aware of the proper PPE for dealing with biohazards, and to remember to always sterilize/disinfect your working area and equipment.

But for a more clear, concise idea of how to keep safe from bloodborne pathogens as a first responder, we will now discuss the 9 best practices for doing so.

  1. Biohazard SymbolTreat every situation as potentially dangerous. OSHA's universal precautions require that all human blood or other potentially infectious materials be considered hazardous.
  2. Protect your hands! Notice I didn't just say "wear gloves," because that's really just a piece of the puzzle. Gloves are a "yes" but you should remember to cover any cuts or sores with a bandage before putting gloves on. Pay attention to the gloves as well. If they are too thin, double up; if they are torn or ripped (no matter how small!), throw them away and get a new pair. Click here for a video of proper glove removal. Dispose of them not in the garbage, but in a designated biohazard bag and make sure to wash & scrub your hands thoroughly (with soap!) afterwards. 
  3. Protect your eyes/face! While providing medical assistance or cleaning up a spill, you may need to watch out for splashing or vaporization of the contaminated fluids. Wearing goggles will protect your eyes from transmission through your eye membranes. Using a face shield as well, will protect your nose and mouth from splashes.
  4. Body protection! In attempt to protect your clothing and to keep blood or other contaminated fluids from soaking through your clothes to your exposed skin, you may wear aprons or a body shield. Shoe covers are also available for avoiding contamination of your footwear.
  5. Clean up! Obviously, you need to clean up the contaminated environment when finished working. For blood or other body fluids from sick or injured employees, always use gloves and situationally, you may need to utilize some (or all) of the above-mentioned PPE. Remember that ammonia is a good all-around cleaner (especially for blood), but be careful of discoloration on certain fabrics. And NEVER mix ammonia with bleach, it can be FATAL and extremely dangerous.
  6. Properly dispose of waste! Now that you've cleaned up, just throw the rags/gloves in the trash, right?! WRONG. You may have a biohazard bag to use, in which case, do so. At the very least, designate a bag, mark it "biohazard" and drop your items in there. This is an important step and should not be overlooked. Does it make sense to take all that time and effort to clean up, only to have the mess you just cleaned up fall out onto the ground re-contaminated the area because some other piece of trash punctured a hole in the garbage bag while you were carrying it around.  Biohazardous waste must be disposed of at an EPA-approved waste recycling facility.  One of the most convenient ways to do this is by using a mail back waste service.
  7. Proper sharp disposal. For any sharp material (broken glass, needles, etc.) use a broom & dustpan or a shovel to pick up and dispose of the items in an appropriate container. Do not throw them into your biohazard bag (again because of puncture holes & releasing your contaminates) and NEVER use your hands (even with gloves) to pick them up. 
  8. Decon, decon, decon! Decontamination plays such an important role and is overlooked at times. We don't want whatever was all over those instruments contaminating everything else! Wipe your hands down with an antiseptic wipe and allow them to air dry. Then.....wash you hands again!
  9. More decon! Well, equipment this time; the last thing you should do is decontaminate and sterilize all non-disposable equipment and tools (mops, buckets, etc.) used as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that not all these steps will be used/taken in every situation, but having these in your mind will help you stay as safe as possible and will keep you and those around you (home, work, public) free from biohazardous contamination.
A big thank you to the official OSHA website and ISHN magazine for some great resources & reference on biohazards in the workplace.

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Bloodborne Pathogen  Training Course

Tags: biohazards, biohazards in the workplace, first aid