Occupational Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention OSHA

Anyone can get exposed to bloodborne pathogens in the workplace by any means including while handling needles or cutting sharps such as scalpels.

Nurses face risks daily while handling patients who can be potential carriers of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV or HBV, which can lead to serious complications.

While they can be prevented, most pass them as work-related hazards. Needlestick injuries have been common in the workplace and are usually the cause of many bloodborne infections in the workplace.

Nurses are the most affected being at the frontline of exposure. Needlestick prevention OSHA has been advocating for better prevention mechanisms at the workplace.

Let’s take an in-depth look at what bloodborne pathogens are and their impact on the safety of health workers and those handling potential carriers.

What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that can occur in the human blood and infect the host with diseases. The pathogens include and aren’t limited to:

Human immunodeficiency virus(HIV)

Hepatitis B virus

Hepatitis C virus



Injuries related to sharps such as needle sticks can be a route of exposure to bloodborne pathogens for workers.

Affected workers can be from many technical occupations, including health workers, first aiders, housekeeping workers, and nurses.

Statistics from the CDC

The CDC mentions needlestick injuries as the most reported type of injuries. 80% of contact with blood is through needlesticks, thus making it the most common route for healthcare workers to get exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

Over 20 types of pathogens can be transmitted through exposure to a small amount of blood. Of all the mentioned pathogens, the most common work-related infection is hepatitis B.

A report by the CDC states that a whopping 5,100 workers are infected every year with hepatitis B through work-related contact.

In the US, there have been 54 reported cases of HIV seroconversions from health care workers due to occupational exposure.

Hollow-bore needles contributed to 86% of needlestick injuries, with all being HIV exposures during work hours.

 Among all health care workers, nurses contribute to 24 % of the reported HIV exposure cases.

Luckily, research indicates that 83 % of the reported cases can be prevented, with most of the injuries preventable by using needles with safety features or needleless equipment.

According to the American Hospital Association, if a severe case of infection by bloodborne pathogen occurs, it leads to expenditures exceeding $1million for tests, treatment, therapy, and follow-up.

It is estimated that the cost for following up on a single needlestick injury is more than $3000 even when no infection results from the injury.

Devices that integrate safe needles exceed the cost of standard tools by more than 28 cents.

What Can be done to Curb and Minimize the Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens?

To decrease and eradicate the cases of occupational exposures, every employee must be ready and willing to follow the exposure control plan and as required by employee protection policies.

The plan should have a detailed description of how an employee should use personal protective clothing, work and engineering practice controls, medical surveillance tools, get hepatitis B vaccinations and other requirements stated in the bloodborne pathogens standard.

The primary means to eradicate and reduce employee exposure is through engineering controls.

Needlestick prevention measures may involve practices such as using safe needle devices, plastic capillary tubes, and needleless equipment that are implemented to ensure the safety of the workers handling them.

Needlestick Prevention Tips: How to handle a Needlestick injury

If a needlestick injury or injury from sharps happens and exposes you to blood or any body fluid from a patient, you should follow the following steps immediately:

  • Wash the cuts and needlesticks with disinfectants and water.
  • Flush your skin, mouth, or nose with water.
  • Thoroughly and carefully wash eyes with plenty of clean or saline water with a disinfectant.
  • Inform your supervisor of the incidence
  • Seek professional medical treatment.

Workers Rights per the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard

According to OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard, workers or employees have the right to:

  • Work in conditions that don’t pose a risk to their health
  • Get education and training about hazards that could occur in the workplace and how to respond to them and the implications of OSHA’s standards to their rights in the workplace.
  • Review the history of illnesses and work-related injuries in the workplace.
  • Exercise the right to report an injury or raise any concerns on the safety and health risks at the workplace without retaliation.

If retaliated on for exercising their rights and filing a complaint, they must submit another complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the occurrence.

Final Words

Needlestick injuries are common at the workplace and contribute to most of the infections of bloodborne pathogens that are work-related.

 It is, therefore, useful to take the necessary precautions to reduce these exposures and related injuries.

While training on needlestick prevention measures can go a long way in providing the education required to handle the incidences, it takes personal initiative to integrate policies and implement the necessary control practices properly.