When employees are exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials as the result of performing their job duties, employers have an obligation to provide personal protective equipment. Studies have shown that personal protective equipment can significantly reduce the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). This is because appropriate personal protective equipment acts as a barrier against exposure to these blood borne pathogens.
Determining the Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment
Determining the appropriate level and type of personal protective equipment for a given person should be based on the duties they perform. Personal protective equipment can include gowns, laboratory coats, gloves, face shields or masks, pocket masks, eye protection, and other protective gear. A laboratory technician tasked with drawing blood may only need gloves for personal protective equipment. Contrast the forensic pathologist who routinely performs autopsies. They would need significantly greater amounts of personal protective equipment, because their exposure level is increased. Additionally, the amount of blood and other potentially infectious materials a forensic pathologist would be exposed to is significantly greater than that of a laboratory technician. In any situation where it is reasonable to expect that a worker could have hand contact with potentially infectious materials, including but not limited to blood, or may come into contact with items or surfaces contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials, employers must ensure that their employees are wearing gloves.
In situations where the handling of blood or other potentially infectious materials might involve sprays, splatters, splashes, or droplets which could present a hazard to the mouth, nose, or eyes, masks should be used in conjunction with eye protection, such as glasses with solid side shields or goggles.
Alternatively, a chin length face shield may work. Body protection includes protective clothing such as aprons, lab coats, gowns, or other similar garments. During procedures where gross contamination is expected, such as during autopsies, or orthopedic surgery, surgical hoods or caps, along with shoe covers or boots, are required.
In HBV and HIV production facilities and research laboratories, uniforms, laboratory coats gowns, or other appropriate personal protective clothing must be used in animal rooms as well as work areas. Personal protective clothing must be decontaminated before it is laundered. Additionally, this personal protective clothing should not be worn outside of the work area.
Basic Rules about Personal Protective Equipment
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that personal protective equipment is readily accessible to their employees. Additionally, the personal protective equipment must be available in sizes that are appropriate for the employees performing the work. The personal protective equipment must be appropriate for the task. For example, single use gloves may not be decontaminated or washed with the intention of reusing them. Single use gloves should only be used a single time. Utility gloves, designed for more than one use, may be decontaminated as long as the decontamination does not compromise the effective barrier of the glove. Utility gloves should be replaced when there are signs of deterioration. This can include cracking, tearing, peeling, puncturing, or other physical signs of deteriorating. For workers who have allergies to the standard personal protective equipment, employers must provide alternatives, such as non-latex gloves, powderless gloves, glove liners, or similar alternatives.
The Exception for Volunteer Blood Donation Centers
As a general rule, gloves are required for all phlebotomies. However, there is an exception for volunteer blood donation centers. Employers in volunteer blood donation centers are permitted to make the determination that routine gloving is not necessary for all phlebotomies. However, when the employer makes this judgement, the employer must periodically re-evaluate the policy. Additionally, the employer must make gloves available for workers who would like to use them. Further, employers are not permitted to make any attempt to discourage the use of gloves by employees who wish to use them. Despite the exemption for volunteer blood donation centers in general, there are three situations where employers must ensure the use of gloves in the volunteer blood donation center. These three situations include the following:
- When an employee is in training;
- When the employee has scratches, cuts or other breaks in their skin; or
- When the worker believes that there is a possibility that a hand contamination could occur.
Other Exceptions for the Use of Personal Protective Equipment
According to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there may be rare and extraordinary circumstances where an employee may choose, briefly and temporarily, to forgo the use of personal protective equipment. This can only be done where the employee’s professional judgment dictates that the use of personal protective equipment would prevent the delivery of public safety services or the delivery of health care. The forgoing of personal protective equipment may also occur when, in the judgment of the employee, the use of the personal protective equipment would present an increased hazard to the safety of the employee or a coworker. If this situation presents itself, the employer is responsible for investigating and documenting the circumstances at hand. This is to determine if there might be a way to avoid the forgoing of personal protective equipment in the future. Both employers and employees should be aware that this exemption is not a blanket exemption from the use of personal protective equipment. “OSHA expects that this will be an extremely rare occurrence.”
The Decontamination and Disposal of Personal Protective Equipment
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that workers remove all personal protective equipment before leaving the work area. Garments that have been penetrated by blood or other potentially infectious materials must be removed as soon as feasible. They must be placed in a designated container or designated area for storage, washing, decontamination or, where appropriate, disposal. Employees should wash their hands as soon as feasible after removing gloves and other personal protective equipment.
If You Have Concerns About Your Safety
If you have concerns about blood borne pathogens and your safety, or if you feel you have been injured due to unsafe laboratory practices, contact the skilled work injury claim lawyers in Atlanta at the Bader Law Firm, LLC. We will discuss your case with you at no charge.