Biohazards in the Workplace – What to Know
For many people, their place of employment is like a second home – a place where they have friends, a place where people support personal and professional growth, a place where they feel safe. Like anywhere else, however, the workplace environment can pose significant health and safety risks.
OSHA defines these occupational risks as:
- Safety hazards. Spills, tripping hazards, unguarded machinery, improper wiring, working from heights.
- Physical hazards. Radiation, temperature extremes, exposure to extreme heat or cold.
- Chemical hazards. Toxic cleaning products, vapors, fumes, pesticides, and flammable materials.
- Biohazards. Blood and other body fluids, bacteria and viruses like Hepatitis B and C, fungi, and mold.
- Ergonomic hazards. Poorly adjusted workstations, frequent lifting, poor posture.
- Work organization hazards. Workplace violence, lack of social support, sexual harassment.
I don’t work in a hospital, so why should I be concerned about workplace biohazards? It is true that individuals working in the medical field are faced with biohazards on a daily basis. Used syringes, specimen cultures, discarded surgical gloves, and medical sharps are all biohazardous materials that are common in hospitals and medical offices and require special care during disposal. However, doctors, nurses, and lab technicians are not the only ones at risk. People working in law enforcement, coroners, medical examiners, property management, veterinary medicine, waste management, manufacturing, agriculture, and other professions are also at a high risk for workplace biohazards, along with any worker who has been exposed to the scene of an industrial accident.
How Can I Protect Myself from Biohazards in the Workplace?
You can take several precautions to protect yourself from biohazards in the workplace. Some of these include:
- Treating each situation as potentially dangerous. Don’t ever assume a situation involving biohazards will be fine to respond to without proper precautions.
- Washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap.
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when responding to situations involving biohazards. These can include gloves, facemasks and shields, respirators, aprons, special protective eyewear, and full body gowns or suits.
- Utilizing proper disposal methods including labeled biohazard bags or containers.
- Reporting all incidents to your supervisor.
Workplace Biohazards – Know Your Rights
In addition to taking personal measures for protection, several agencies exist to protect employees and regulate risk exposure, including The Center for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American Biological Safety Association (ABSA), and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Under the regulations of these agencies, there are specific protocols that an employer must follow to protect workers from workplace biohazards. Some of these include:
- Mandatory Hepatitis B vaccinations, paid for by your employer
- Personal protective equipment and respirators
- Annual BBE, PPE, and Hazcom training
- An established Exposure Control Plan
When dealing with workplace biohazards, any potential contact should be treated with the utmost care to avoid risk and harm to employees. As a result, it is often best to call a bioremediation company for help with biohazards cleanup. Aftermath is an industry leader and the first biohazard cleaning company to integrate ATP testing (the same test hospitals use to identify the presence of biological contaminants) into its remediation processes to ensure your workplace is clean and safe for everyone. To learn more about Aftermath and our services, speak with a technician today.