If your place of business is affected by a trauma or other biohazard situation, you are potentially liable if employees or customers are exposed to a risk. The following outlines the specific regulations you should be aware of, as well as other guidelines/recommendations by federal and state organizations which relate to biohazards.
Given the risks associated with blood and biological matter, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a protocol specifically targeted at mitigating exposures to and damage from potentially infectious pathogens. This protocol is commonly known as the Blood-Borne Pathogen (BBP) standard and can be found at 29 CFR 1910.1030, et seq.
The underlying premise set forth by OSHA in the BBP standard is that of universal precautions. Under the universal precautions premise, employers who are exposing their employees to blood and biological materials are required to assume that all blood or biological material contains potentially infectious blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis B, HIV, or Tuberculosis. It is this universal precaution assumption that requires such highly-specialized regulations and a strict adherence to compliance.
OSHA also requires that exposure to blood-borne pathogens be limited as much as possible due to the assumption that the blood and biological material is infectious. Most actions taken to limit exposure fall under cross-contamination protocols, which provide that certain actions be taken to avoid further spreading the contamination throughout otherwise clean areas. Under employee safety and cross-contamination protocols, the following OSHA regulations may pertain to bioremediation:
- OSHA29 CFR 1910.1030(g)(2)(ii)- Initial Assessment of Work: Must assess work site for potential hazards to employee safety.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1200, et seq.- Hazard Communication Protocol: Required to establish what chemicals are used and that they are properly labeled.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(i);29 CFR 1910.1030(e)(2)(iii); 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1); and 29, CFR 1926.1053 - Work Practice & Engineering Controls and Safety: Having done the initial assessment, must determine damage, potential hazards, equipment needs, egresses, work routes, possible complicating factors, ladder/scaffolding safety protocols, availability for hand-washing/sanitization wipes.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1) - Method of Compliance: Ensure employees are following all OSHA-mandated engineering and work practice controls through proper supervision, written documentation and photographs.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(2) - Exposure Determination: Determine employee safety concerns due to exposure to biological materials.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(g)(1) - Hazard Signs and Labels: Hazardous areas must be demarcated; use of biohazard tape and establishment of zones (described below) separates and identifies hazardous areas.
Personal Protective Equipment
As noted above, OSHA has set forth a protocol directly targeted at protecting employees exposed to blood and biological materials which are always assumed to be infectious. Under the BBP protocol, an employee is also required to follow the general personal protective equipment (PPE) standards, respiratory standards, and hazardous communication (Hazcom) standards also set forth by OSHA under different subparts of the federal regulations.
Some of the specific protocols required of an employer who exposes its employees to blood and biological materials include but are not limited to the following:
- Mandatory Hepatitis B vaccinations, paid for by the employer.
- Respiratory medical screening by physician to ensure the employee can properly breathe and work while using a full race respirator, paid for by the employer.
- Providing a personal respirator to the employee at the employer’s cost that must be fit-tested specifically for that employee to ensure a tight seal between the face and mask so no pathogens can permeate.
- Annual training for all employees in the BBP, PPE, Hazcom, and respiratory standards, paid for by the employer.
- A written exposure control plan that outlines the steps to take to protect employees from pathogen exposure, written by the employer and reviewed and updated annually with employee participation.
- Providing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to the employees at the employer’s cost, as well as training in how to properly use PPE. Proper PPE for Aftermath field technicians includes gloves, full-body suits, booties, and the respirator all with changes at regular intervals to prevent employee exposure and also cross-contamination.
- Follow mandatory heat-stress protocols to prevent an employee from suffering a heat-stress injury (such as heat stroke) caused by working within a non-permeable suit (i.e. pathogens cannot get in but sweat cannot get out) while doing manual labor.
Biohazard Removal & Medical Waste Storage/Transportation
Several state and federal regulations culminate to address how blood and biological materials should be treated, handled, and disposed of. The OSHA employee safety protocols impact how an employee will handle such materials, but in addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Center for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), and state environmental agencies all govern various areas regarding blood and biological materials.
The CDC and NIOSH have primarily established the guidelines for how blood and biological materials must be treated to render them as harmless as possible. These regulations were first introduced to address blood and biological spills in hospitals and other medical settings. However, they have since been applied to various non-medical settings in which blood or other biological materials may be present.
The primary guideline set forth by the CDC is that pathogens cannot be properly disinfected unless an EPA-rated disinfectant or tuberculocide has been sprayed on clean, hard surface. This means that a remediation company cleaning up a blood spill must (a) be using EPA-rated chemicals, (b) be strictly following the directions provided by the chemical manufacture which are the conditions under which the EPA approved the disinfectant, (c) be removing any gross biological materials from the hard surface before using the disinfectant, and (d) be spraying only hard, non-permeable surfaces. If the above conditions cannot be met, then the surface or item cannot be disinfected and must be properly removed and disposed of as regulated medical waste. For example, OSHA and the CDC issued an opinion letter in which they stated that blood could not be cleaned or disinfected out of carpeting; carpet is a soft, permeable surface and no disinfectant has been rated by the EPA to properly disinfect soft surfaces. Therefore, an affected carpet cannot be cleaned, but instead the affected areas must be removed and disposed of as regulated medical waste.
(It is under these guidelines established by the CDC and NIOSH that Aftermath developed its remediation protocols which include first removing all gross biological materials and then beginning the disinfecting and deodorizing stages.)
In addition, as mentioned above, blood, biological materials, and any items affected with blood or biological materials must be disposed of as regulated medical waste. The EPA, DOT, OSHA, and state environmental agencies all have specific regulations tied to the proper management of regulated medical waste. However, the most common regulations all provide for how medical waste should be handled, packaged, labeled, transported, manifested, and disposed of. For instance, regulated medical waste typically must be placed in a red bag of a certain textile strength that is labeled with the universal biohazard symbol. Several agencies then require that this bag be placed in a secondary container that is leak-proof which is typically a corrugated cardboard of certain strength or a plastic container. These containers must be properly labeled and must be tracked through chain of custody manifesting forms. The waste then must ultimately be disposed of according to state and federal law, which typically provides for disposal through autoclaving or incineration. It varies by state, but typically those who generate, transport, store, or dispose of medical waste must be licensed by the appropriate agency and the employees must be trained on the state and federal regulations under the license. In addition, employees must follow the proper exposure regulations when handling the boxes as they contain potentially infectious medical waste.
All of these regulations and guidelines serve as the foundation for the processes that Aftermath utilizes when performing a biohazard remediation service. They are not optional; they are the steps we must follow to be compliant with the various state and federal agency requirements that ultimately impact this industry. While your employees may not be in the line of exposure to biohazards daily, any potential contact with biohazards should be treated with the utmost care to avoid risk and potential harm to people.
For further information, you may wish to visit the websites for the above agencies as they provide a variety of information on-line.