Preventing infection by bloodborne pathogens

You can never be too careful around a blood or bodily fluid spill – the fluids could be biohazardous.

I was working in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and ’80s when employers were coming to grips with the then swelling number of reported HIV-AIDS infections in the community. I attended a conference where, to my initial surprise, San Francisco-based Levi Strauss announced their “no-policy policy” on bloodborne pathogens (BBP) and AIDS. (Think of the sharp objects involved in denim jean manufacturing.) With this policy, the company sent the message that if you treat all blood and body fluid as potentially infectious, you don’t routinely have to worry about the source.

I found this approach to be a sound practice. There is never a good reason to be complacent, even if you regard someone as “low risk,” and not everyone knows whether he or she is carrying a disease. Also, if you don’t allow a route for entry, there is no risk of infection.

If you encounter a blood or body fluid spill, avoid it, and keep others away as well.

The Fermilab Fire Department at x3131 is available around the clock to help in such situations. Response time is no more than three to five minutes from anywhere on site and they have all the tools to attend to the injury safely and effectively.

You can also call custodial services at x2798. They are equipped and trained to perform a clean-up and have hospital-grade disinfectant that is effective in cleaning up spills on hard surfaces.

Nearby safety personnel may clean up spills in high-traffic areas. Every contaminated item needs to go into a special waste stream. Your safety professional can facilitate the safe transfer of these items.

If you feel you must render immediate aid to an injured co-worker, the ubiquitous nitrile gloves are a good barrier to BBPs. If there is a spray of blood or body fluid, take precautions to keep the spray from contacting your eyes, nose, mouth or open cuts. This may be as simple as altering your position from out of the line of fire or, better yet, donning safety glasses or a face shield if available. View this video to learn the proper equipment and method of use.

If you need to do a clean-up at home, use a 1-to-100-ratio mixture of household bleach and water to neutralize the risk of infection from a contaminated hard surface.

Be careful never to place yourself at risk when you encounter blood or body fluids. It could lead to a bloodborne pathogen event.

Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.