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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Reduces Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that will highlight OSHA's guidelines and manuals relating to bloodborne pathogens.

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) requires employers to protect workers who are occupationally exposed to blood and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), as defined in the standard. That is, the standard protects workers who can reasonably be anticipated to come into contact with blood or OPIM as a result of doing their job duties.

One way the employer can protect workers against exposure to bloodborne pathogens, such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, is by providing and ensuring they use personal protective equipment, or PPE. Wearing appropriate PPE can significantly reduce risk, since it acts as a barrier against exposure. Employers are required to provide, clean, repair, and replace this equipment as needed, and at no cost to workers.

Selecting Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment may include gloves, gowns, laboratory coats, face shields or masks, eye protection, pocket masks, and other protective gear. The PPE selected must be appropriate for the task. This means the level and type of protection must fit the expected exposure. For example, gloves may be the only PPE needed for a laboratory technician who is drawing blood. However, a pathologist conducting an autopsy would need much more protective clothing because of the different types of exposure (e.g., splashes, sprays) and the increased amount of blood and OPIM that are encountered. PPE must be readily accessible to workers and available in appropriate sizes.

If it can be reasonably expected that a worker could have hand contact with blood, OPIM, or contaminated surfaces or items, the employer must ensure that the worker wears gloves. Singleuse gloves cannot be washed or decontaminated for reuse. Utility gloves may be decontaminated if their ability to provide an effective barrier is not compromised. They should be replaced when they show signs of cracking, peeling, tearing, puncturing, or deteriorating. Non-latex gloves, glove liners, powderless gloves or similar alternatives must be provided if workers are allergic to the gloves normally provided.

Gloves are required for all phlebotomies outside of volunteer blood donation centers. If an employer in a volunteer blood donation center judges that routine gloving for all phlebotomies is not necessary, then the employer is required to periodically re-evaluate this policy; make gloves available for workers who want to use them; and cannot discourage their use. In addition, employers must ensure that workers in volunteer blood donation centers use gloves (1) when they have cuts, scratches or other breaks in their skin, (2) while they are in training, or (3) when the worker believes that hand contamination might occur.

Read the rest of the factsheet here.

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