Emergency healthcare workers are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Paramedics, in particular, can be exposed to blood from trauma victims as they perform advanced life support procedures. Because of their work conditions—often unpredictable and stressful with patients who may be bleeding uncontrollably—paramedics can easily come into contact with blood that may carry risk of infection.
It is an employer’s responsibility to reduce or eliminate hazards of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens by implementing plans and protection measures to keep employees safe. According to a recent report from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), however, an Ohio company was recently cited for failing to protect emergency healthcare workers from these types of hazards.
Ohio Ambulance Company Cited for Health Violations
On July 6, 2016, OSHA cited Altamount Ambulance Service, Inc., for five willful, 16 serious, and three other-than-serious safety and health violations as a result of inspections which began in January of this year.
OSHA looked into the company’s workings after receiving a complaint of alleged violations. OSHA noted that the ambulance company has a responsibility to follow OSHA guidelines to protect both patients and staff from injury during emergency procedures.
During its investigation OSHA found that Altamount failed in numerous areas, including:
- Failed to make hepatitis B vaccination services available to employees.
- Did not establish an exposure control plan for bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious material.
- Failed to properly train workers about these pathogen hazards and how to take the appropriate precautions, or to teach them how to dispose of, clean, or launder contaminated personal protection equipment.
- Failed to communicate to employees their decisions on the use of personal protective equipment.
These are only a few of the violations OSHA found. Altamount was also reportedly failing to properly light emergency exits, train workers in the use of hazardous chemicals, or follow electrical safe work places.
OSHA has proposed $290,100 in fines. Altamount has 15 days to comply or request an informal conference with OSHA.
Emergency Workers at Risk for Bloodborne Diseases
According to a national survey of paramedics conducted between 2002 and 2003, about 22 percent of all paramedics had at least one exposure to blood in the previous year. The “sharps” (from needles) injury rate for paramedics was high compared to most hospital workers, as was exposure of broken skin to blood.
Among the paramedics surveyed, 80 percent stated that their employers provided safety equipment like goggles and face/surgical masks. One-fifth of them, however, said they needed more training in how to use that equipment, and one-fourth said they needed equipment that was better designed, or that they needed additional equipment to protect themselves.
OSHA states that employers must implement an exposure control plan for each worksite with details on how employees can protect themselves. The initial Bloodborne Pathogens standards were put in place in 1991, and updated by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act in 2000. OSHA requires employers to identify, evaluate, and implement safer medical devices, and maintain a “sharps injury” log to help evaluate and choose the safest materials.