A new directive issued Nov. 5 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will guide compliance officers in enforcing the standard that covers occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens and will ensure consistent inspection procedures are followed.
The directive is designed to help minimize serious health risks faced by workers exposed to blood and other potentially infectious materials. Among the risks are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
It updates an earlier directive issued in 1992 and reflects the availability of improved devices, better treatment following exposure and OSHA policy interpretations.
"This directive doesn't place new requirements on employers, but it does recognize and emphasize the advances made in medical technology," Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman said. "It reminds employers that they must use readily available technology in their safety and health programs."
The revised directive emphasizes the importance of an annual review of the employer's bloodborne pathogens program and the use of safer medical devices to help reduce needlesticks and other sharps injuries. OSHA does not advocate the use of one particular medical device over another.
The directive also highlights basic work practices, personal protective equipment and administrative controls. The emphasis on engineering controls results from OSHA's request last year for ideas and recommendations on ways to better protect workers from contaminated needles or other sharp objects.
"We received nearly 400 comments from health care facilities, workers and others," OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said. "They told us that safe medical devices already available are effective in controlling hazards and that wider use of such devices would reduce thousands of injuries each year."
The revised directive includes detailed instructions to compliance officers on inspections of multiemployer work sites, such as home health services, employment agencies, personnel services, physicians and health care professionals in independent practices and independent contractors. The directive has decontamination requirements, guidelines on hepatitis vaccinations and post exposure treatments, and employee training.
Some of the key revisions are that employers:
- Ensure that their plans reflect consideration and use of commercially available and safer medical devices;
- Emphasize the use of effective engineering controls, to include safer medical devices, work practices, administrative controls and personal protective equipment;
- Emphasize that employers should rely on relevant evidence in addition to FDA approval to ensure effectiveness of devices designed to prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens; and
- Require effective training and education for employees whenever safer devices are implemented. Interactive training sessions should be stressed rather than just the use of films or videos that do not provide the opportunity for discussion with a qualified trainer.
The directive can be accessed from the OSHA home page at www.osha.gov under the "Directives" link.