July 26, 2022

A Guide to Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control

Healthcare providers and administrators face many challenges in their day-to-day work, from ensuring the best patient care possible, to navigating heavy workloads amid frequent staff turnover, to maintaining compliance with state and local regulations. Healthcare workers faced even more issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, as patient numbers skyrocketed, and hospitals faced a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage.

An unsafe healthcare workplace can increase providers’ feelings of burnout, stress, and fatigue. These feelings can worsen the existing challenges healthcare workers face daily and could even threaten the quality –of care they provide to patients. Medical waste management can play an important role in building a safer healthcare environment for employees. In fact, Stericycle’s 2021 Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report found that 9 in 10 healthcare professionals believe medical waste management is foundational to maintaining a safe and effective workplace.

Proper sharps disposal plays a crucial role in effective medical waste management and helps maintain a safer healthcare workplace. Medical sharps include any device with sharp points or edges that can puncture or damage the skin, including hypodermic needles, syringes, scalpels, and exposed ends of dental wires. Unlike other types of medical waste, sharps waste is produced in a wide range of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, retail pharmacies, dialysis centers, and patients’ homes. 

Unfortunately, sharps-related injuries are too common in healthcare environments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 385,000 needlestick and other sharps-related injuries are sustained each year by hospital-based healthcare personnel. Moreover, a sharps injury can cost healthcare organizations up to $2500 in recovery costs

Sharps injuries risk the spread of bloodborne pathogens (BBPs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the Hepatitis B (HBV) virus, and the Hepatitis C (HCV) virus. An ineffective or nonexistent sharps disposal plan could increase the risk of employees contracting bloodborne illness at work, potentially contributing to healthcare providers’ stress and possibly worsening the quality-of-care they give.

In response to this danger, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, which addresses how an organization can help prevent the spread of these dangerous microorganisms. Healthcare organizations with employees who have occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials should follow OSHA’s regulations to remain compliant and help protect patients and staff. 

The BBP Standard requires organizations to initially and annually train their workforce members who have occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials. These sessions educate employees on safety protocols, best practices, prevention, and organization specific BBP exposure control plans.

Key elements of annual BBP training sessions include:

  • Bloodborne Diseases: An explanation of the epidemiology and symptoms of bloodborne diseases.
  • Exposure Control Plan: An explanation of the employer's exposure control plan and how employees can obtain a copy of the written plan.
  • Controls, Practices, and Equipment: An explanation of the specific engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment the workplace is using to minimize or eliminate exposure.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Explanation of the specific types, location, and proper use, donning, removal, handling, decontamination, and disposal of personal protective equipment.

Stericycle has solutions to help organizations of all kinds put safety at the center of their operations. Download our infographic and watch our sharps disposal webinar to learn more. 

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