Universal Precautions: First and Best Line of Defense Against BBP
Universal precautions are essential to preventing the spread of bloodborne infections such as HIV and HBV (hepatitis B). Are your employees familiar with the concept and the practice?“Universal precautions” means treating all blood and bodily fluids as if they are infectious- whether or not you think they really are.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your best buddy who’s bleeding and needs first aid or if it’s someone you don’t know. You must always use gloves or another readily available safe barrier to prevent direct contact with blood.
“Universal precautions” include four essential safeguards: (1) using PPE to prevent potentially infectious contact, (2) using good hygiene practices, (3) avoiding direct contact with sharps, and (4) relying on safe housekeeping practices to keep materials and surfaces free from contamination.
PPE: Simple and Safe
Train employees to:
- Wear gloves if there’s a risk of direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, or with possibly contaminated items or surfaces.
- Bandage cuts or broken skin before putting on gloves.
- Wear eye and face protection if there’s a risk of blood splashes or sprays.
- Wear protective clothing if there’s a risk of contact with blood or bodily fluids.
- Use only personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s been inspected for damage before wearing.
- Remove contaminated PPE carefully so contamination doesn’t touch your skin.
- Dispose of contaminated PPE in proper containers so contamination can’t spread.
Make sure workers understand what good hygiene means. For example, make sure they:
- Wash hands and exposed skin carefully with soap and water after exposure.
- Flush eyes, nose, or mouth with water as soon as possible after contact with blood or potentially infectious materials.
- Don’t eat, drink, smoke, apply cosmetics, or handle contact lenses in areas that could contain infectious materials.
OSHA says to treat all sharps as though they’re contaminated.
- Don’t shear, break, or bend needles.
- Don’t reach your hand into a container that might contain sharps.
- Use tongs or a similar tool, not your hands, to clean up broken glass.
- Place all used sharps immediately in puncture-resistant, leakproof containers.
Materials and Surfaces- Keep Them Clean
- Prompt and proper cleaning and decontamination for equipment or surfaces that have had contact with blood or potentially infectious materials
- Use of gloves and leakproof transport containers to handle laundry that may have had contact with blood or other potentially infectious fluids
Most of the elements of Universal Precautions are common sense, but many require a worker to override instinct or deeply ingrained habits. The urge to assist an injured friend can push the need to use barriers out of conscious thought. When wearing gloves that are contaminated, it requires a measure of self control to resist rubbing an itchy eye.
When training workers to properly use PPE, ALWAYS discuss these types of situations. One instructor I know brought this message quite effectively to his class by conducting a simple experiment. At the beginning of the class, he selected two of the attendees to wear nytrile gloves for the duration of the class. The explanation given was that he wanted to demonstrate the comfort and dexterity available while wearing them.
Unbeknownst to the students, he had treated the gloves with a fluorescent powder earlier. Near the end of the class, he asked the two students to come forward. Using a UV lamp, he was able to show how the powder had transferred to the student’s face, eyes, nose, and other locations on their person. This demonstration served to underscore the need for continuous awareness and care needed in hazardous conditions, even when properly wearing PPE.
- Gloves in the laboratory: To wear or not to wear? (cenblog.org)
- Look at the Individual Protective Equipment (PPE) (boldstate.com)
- Free Tool Now Available to Conduct OSHA-Required PPE Assessment (prweb.com)
- The JHA: Analyze This! (safetygator.wordpress.com)
- Alarming Number of Workers Fail to Wear Required Protective Equipment (sacbee.com)