Blood is never “just blood”.
Most people are unaware of the exposure risks of dealing with blood and bodily fluids. Any time these biohazards are present, proceed with caution. These risks can be effectively limited by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and following established remediation and disinfection protocols that are required by law and set by industry best practices.
It is important for any company or organization to understand that they are responsible for their employees’, customers’, and members’ safety when it comes to biohazard exposure.
Employer Responsibilities, Regulations, and Processes
The CDC estimates that 5.6 million workers in the health care industry and related occupations are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious material. This number increases when you factor in employees from other industries like hospitality, janitorial services, and disaster restoration. Given the risks associated with biohazards, organizations have a legal and ethical obligation to protect their employees and customers. The following outlines a few key regulations and guidelines that pertain to biohazards. A comprehensive list of protocols can be obtained by directly contacting federal and state agencies.
Note: employers are responsible for all costs pertaining to training, compliance, equipment, vaccinations, and testing.
- Bloodborne Pathogen (BBP) Standard: OSHA protocol specifically targeted at mitigating exposures to and damage from potentially infectious pathogens.
- Universal Precautions: Employers who may expose their employees to blood and biological materials are required to assume that all blood and biological materials contain potentially infectious bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B, HIV, or Tuberculosis.
- Mandatory Hepatitis B Vaccinations: Employers must ensure that employees are trained about the vaccine and vaccination, including efficacy, safety, method of administration, and the benefits of vaccination.
- Respiratory Standards:
- Required respiratory medical screening by physician
- Personal, full-face respirators that are fit-tested for individual employees
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Standards:
- Recommended equipment includes: gloves, full-body suits, booties, safety goggles or full-face respirators. All equipment must be changed at regular intervals to prevent employee exposure and cross-contamination
- Initial and continual training to appropriately don and doff equipment
- Mandatory Heat-Stress Protocols: Protocol designed to prevent an employee from suffering a heat-stress injury caused by working within a semi-permeable suit while performing manual labor.
- Written Exposure Plan: Plans must be updated and reviewed annually with employee participation.
- Annual OSHA Compliance Training: Required for all employees in BBP, PPE, HAZCOM, and respiratory protection.
Biohazard Removal, Medical Waste Storage, and Transportation
There are several state and federal regulations that address how blood and biological materials should be handled and disposed of.
The CDC and NIOSH have established guidelines for how blood and biological materials must be treated to render them as harmless as possible.
- The CDC has determined that pathogens cannot be properly disinfected unless an EPA-rated disinfectant or tuberculocide has been sprayed on clean, hard surfaces. Remediation companies cleaning up blood spills must:
- (a) use EPA-rated chemicals
- (b) strictly adhere to the directions provided by the chemical manufacturer which are the conditions under which the EPA approved the disinfectant
- (c) remove any biological materials from the hard surface prior to using the disinfectant; and
- (d) spray 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.
- The CDC, in conjunction with OSHA, issued an opinion letter stating that blood on carpeting cannot be disinfected. Carpet is a soft, permeable surface and no disinfectant has been rated by the EPA as adequate enough to properly disinfect soft surfaces. Therefore, an affected carpet cannot be disinfected, but must instead be removed and disposed of as regulated medical waste.
The EPA, DOT, OSHA, and state environmental agencies all have specific regulations tied to how medical waste should be handled, packaged, labeled, transported, manifested, and disposed of.
- Regulated medical waste must be placed in a red bag of a certain textile strength that is labeled with the universal biohazard symbol.
- The red bag must be placed in a secondary container that is leak-proof.
- Containers must be properly labeled and must be tracked through a chain of custody manifesting forms.
- The waste must then be disposed of according to state and federal laws, which typically provides for disposal through autoclaving or incineration.
It varies by state, but those who generate, transport, store, or dispose of medical waste must be licensed by the appropriate agencies. Employees must be trained on the state and federal regulations under the license and must adhere to proper exposure regulations when handling the medical waste boxes.
All of these regulations and guidelines serve as the foundation for the processes that Aftermath utilizes when performing biohazard remediation services.
Biohazards refer to biological substances that pose a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans. The two broad categories of biohazards are Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM). True to its name, bloodborne pathogens are present in and transmitted through blood. OPIM are bacteria and viruses that reside in bodily fluids, feces, urine, and vomit. These biohazards, if improperly treated, can cause serious health issues leading to death. They can even set off epidemics.
Did You Know…
- Some strains of E. coli can live for more than 15 weeks on wet surfaces and more than 4 days on hard, dry surfaces. Almost everyone has some risk of infection. An estimated 39,000 people are infected each year, and 405 are fatal.
- Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that is typically transmitted by contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus can survive for days or weeks on hard surfaces.
- C. difficile is a bacterium that can live for months on hard surfaces and fabrics. Each year about a half million people get sick from C. diff. In recent years, these infections have become more severe and difficult to treat, leading to more than 29,000 deaths.
- MRSA, a Super Bug, is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections. MRSA is highly contagious and can survive for weeks on surfaces.
- Almost 6 million people in the US are infected with Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus, while Hepatitis C can survive outside the body at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. Any blood spills, including dried blood, can be infectious.
- There are an estimated 1.1 million people in the US living with HIV. Every 9.5 minutes another person becomes infected.