Emergency responders in Nevada often come into contact with blood when they are providing emergency care, making it crucial for them to use personal protective equipment to protect themselves against exposure to bloodborne pathogens while they are on the job. Employers should conduct regular training about bloodborne pathogens and the proper use of protective equipment, and they should provide the equipment to their employees. Coming into contact with bloodborne pathogens can lead to emergency responders contracting serious diseases. If workers contract diseases as a result of workplace exposures to bloodborne pathogens, they may be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits.
Dangers to Paramedics
While all emergency responders are at risk of coming into contact with blood and other bodily fluids when they respond to accidents and other emergency situations, paramedics are particularly at risk. Paramedics perform life-saving procedures and may be exposed to blood as a part of their jobs.
A survey that was conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health between 2002 and 2003 found that 22 percent of paramedics reported that they had been exposed to blood at least once during the previous 12 months. California, which had instituted a needlestick prevention law several years prior, showed much lower exposure rates. The paramedics in that state reported needlesticks that were only one-fourth of the national rate, and their blood exposures were half of the national rate.
How Exposures Occur
Exposures to blood and other bodily fluids can occur in several ways, including the following:
- Sharps injury such as from needlesticks
- Splashes to the mouth, nose, eyes, or skin
- Fluids coming into contact with broken skin
- Bites from patients
Good personal protective equipment should offer some protection against all of these potential incidents so that the emergency response personnel are protected.
Personal Protective Equipment
Emergency responders, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, nurses, and doctors should all use personal protective equipment as the first line of defense against bloodborne pathogens. Whenever they are handling patients, they should always have barriers available that prevent bodily fluids and blood from contacting their skin or penetrating their clothing. Some types of personal protective equipment include the following:
- Latex gloves
- Goggles, safety glasses, or face shields
- Shoe covers
- Body covers
- PPE that is puncture-resistant
Employers should provide their employees with a sufficient supply of PPE, and it should be available in a variety of different sizes. This includes enough PPE to be able to replace materials that have been damaged as well as biohazard containers to dispose of PPE that has been used.
Uniforms that are used as PPE should not be worn home. Instead, there should be a designated area at the workplace to store the uniforms for decontamination and laundering. Workers may also need to take showers immediately after they remove their soiled garments and other PPE to prevent contamination. Finally, workers should employ good hygiene so that they can minimize their own risks as well as the risks of others. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, PPE is insufficient if it does not prevent bodily fluids and blood from penetrating or contacting the clothing of the workers or coming into contact with the mucous membranes, the mouth, eyes, or skin.
In addition to providing personal protective equipment to emergency responders, employers should conduct regular training sessions about handling patients, the importance of always wearing personal protective equipment, and how to use it properly.
Employers should also have a written plan in place for exposure control, and the plan should be reviewed and updated at least annually. The training sessions should include the plan, and employees should be encouraged to report any exposures immediately after they have occurred.
Emergency responders should be trained to report any exposures that they have experienced to blood and other bodily fluids. Employers should analyze the workplace culture and change anything that might discourage workers from reporting their exposures. Workers who do report that they have been exposed should undergo immediate medical evaluations. Treatment for exposures to certain pathogens such as HIV should be started immediately.
Reporting is also important for workers to document their exposures. If the exposures are not documented, it might be difficult for them to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
Employers should review all reports of exposures to determine whether there is an identifiable pattern. This can help employers to implement preventive measures that could potentially protect other workers in the future.
Availability of Workers’ Compensation
Emergency responders who contract diseases because of exposures to bloodborne pathogens while they are working may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The benefits are available to workers who contract occupational diseases and may pay for all of the treatment that the workers must undergo as a result of their exposures to bloodborne pathogens while they are on the job.