The phrase “safety in the field” usually evokes images of an encounter with an armed felon or a vicious pit bull guarding a drug dealer’s crib but not all dangers are quite so obvious: blood borne pathogens. Most of us never think about the possibility of contracting a serious illness in the course of our work but the possibility does exist.
The OSHA blood borne pathogens standard covers all employees in jobs where occupational exposure to blood borne pathogens can be “reasonably anticipated”. However, as anyone who has done this kind of work for more than two weeks knows that “reasonably anticipated” events are often the exception, rather than the rule.
Here are just a few of the diseases that can be transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids such as blood, seminal or vaginal fluid:
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – This virus causes AIDS but unless there is transmission by a means listed below, the risk of infection is statistically zero.
Hepatitis B (HBV) – This virus can live on surfaces for up to four days.
Hepatitis C (HCV)
Non A, Non B Hepatitis
There are many more out there but the ones listed above are most common. They are transmitted in one of four ways:
It’s important to realize that casual contact (e.g. a hand shake) carries no risk of transmitting an infection. The danger comes when infected bodily fluids come in contact with broken skin or mucous membranes; like eyes and noses.
The short answer to prevention is this: “Wash your hands and don’t make a habit of touching your face.” Using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content is also recommended after washing. When blood or bodily fluids are present, always use universal precautions: Shield eyes and nose and wear vinyl or latex gloves.