Sharps are defined as any object that can pierce the skin that has the potential of transmitting dangerous pathogens such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HBV (hepatitis B), HCV (hepatitis C), and others. It has been estimated by OSHA that workers in the healthcare industry have about 5.6 million sharps injuries and are at high risk for bloodborne pathogen and OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) exposure. Sharps can include but are not limited to needles, knives, scalpels, and broken glass and plastic. Due to the high-rate injury potential OSHA has established very strict guidelines and training for all workers that are at risk for handling and disposal of sharps in the “Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.”
The creation of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard was designed as a method to protect employees that work in jobs that place them at risk for exposure and transmission of infectious diseases through blood and/or OPIM. Employers are required to not only develop written documentation on the methods and actions that they take to protect employees from exposure but to also provide employee training and offer safe working environments for the workers.
Engineering and work practice controls are required to be the main underlying methods that are used to minimize and eliminate bloodborne pathogen and OPIM exposure. Employers are required to have an ECP (Exposure Control Plan) that details the engineering controls that are implemented to reduce, remove, eliminate, or isolate hazards for potential employee exposure in the workplace. Engineering controls for sharps include but are not limited to the use of safer medical devices such as self-sheathing needles, needleless systems, and other sharps injury protection choices. In addition, Work Practice Controls involve taking measures that change the way that a task is performed to reduce exposure likelihood such as prohibiting the use of the two-handed procedure of recapping needles.
The revision of the standard requirements by OSHA now include:
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