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Universal Precautions

Written by Steve Hudgik

Universal Precautions - Questions & Answers

What is does the term Universal Precautions mean?

Universal Precautions is OSHA's required method of control to protect employees from exposure to human blood and OPIM (Other Potentially Infectious Material). The term, "Universal Precautions," refers to a system of bloodborne disease control which requires all human blood and certain human body fluids to be treated as if they are infectious for HIV, HBV or other bloodborne pathogens.

Can Body Substance Isolation (BSI) be adopted in place of Universal Precautions?

Yes. Body Substance Isolation is a control method that defines all body fluids and substances as infectious. BSI incorporates not only the fluids and materials covered by the OSHA standard, but also expands coverage to include all body substances. BSI is an acceptable alternative to Universal Precautions, provided that facilities utilizing BSI adhere to all other provisions of the OSHA standard.

Universal Precautions - Communication of Hazards

When do universal precautions require labels?

OSHA requires that a warning label, that includes the universal biohazard symbol followed by the term "biohazard," be included on:

  • bags and containers of contaminated laundry
  • bags and containers of regulated waste
  • on refrigerators and freezers that are used to store blood or OPIM
  • on bags/containers used to store, dispose of, transport, or ship blood or OPIM (e.g., specimen containers).

In addition, any contaminated equipment which is to be serviced or shipped must have a readily observable label with the biohazard symbol and the word "biohazard" along with a statement identifying the portions of the equipment that are contaminated.

The label must be fluorescent orange, or predominantly orange-red, with the biohazard symbol and lettering in a contrasting color. The label must either be an integral part of the container or attached as close as feasible to the container by adhesive, wire, string or other method that assures the label will remain in place. Using adhesive labels made with tough-tested DuraLabel vinyl supplies is a good option for most containers.

Are there exceptions to the labeling requirement?

Yes. Labeling is not required for:

  • Containers of blood, blood components, and blood products bearing an FDA-required label that have been released for transfusion or other clinical uses.
  • Individual containers of blood or OPIM that are placed in secondary labeled containers during storage, transport, shipment, or disposal.
  • Specimen containers, if the facility uses Universal Precautions when handling all specimens, the containers are recognizable as containing specimens, and the containers remain within the facility.
  • Laundry bags or containers containing contaminated laundry may be marked with an alternative label or be color-coded, provided the facility uses Universal Precautions for handling all soiled laundry, and the alternative marking is recognized by all employees as identifying containers as requiring compliance with Universal Precautions.
  • Regulated waste that has been decontaminated.

Question: Universal precautions apply to those who have contact with patients diagnosed with or suspected of having HIV or hepatitis B. Is the use of personal protective equipment required when there is no reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials? For example, dressing a wound would require the wearing of a glove, but, as a general rule, bathing a patient would not.

Answer from OSHA: The incidence of disease from HIV, Hepatitis B and other bloodborne pathogens has increased in recent years, in many cases from contact with patients whom were not diagnosed or suspected of having HIV or Hepatitis B. It is OSHA's belief that practicing Universal Precautions will reverse this trend. The use of Universal Precautions alone is expected to prevent thousands of deaths of workers who have contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Using gloves for all contact with blood, rather than just for contact with diagnosed patients, must become a standard procedure. The health care worker does not have to evaluate the patient. The patient does not have added concerns that his treatment is markedly different from others. All patients are treated equally.

The use of Universal Precautions is a key element in every bloodborne pathogen program. OSHA maintains that not using Universal Precautions will be considered a serious violation of OSHA standards.

Question: Do "Universal Precautions" apply to dental facilities?

Answer: Yes. According to the OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, "Universal Precautions" is an universal approach to infection control. The underlying concept of Universal Precautions is that all human blood and certain human body fluids are to be treated as they were infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens." OSHA 1910.1030(b) and (d)(1) require that Universal Precautions be followed to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. This would include the handling of PPE that has become contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) in medical and dental facilities.

Question: Does an off-site facility, such as a commercial laundry facility which handles contaminated linen from a health care facility, required to have a written exposure control plan?

Answer: Yes. Employers with employees who launder or otherwise handle linen contaminated with blood or OPIM are considered to have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or OPIM. They are covered by the OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and Universal Precautions must be used. Such employers are required to establish a written exposure control plan designed to eliminate or minimize employee exposure.

Question: Is it permissible for employees to launder personal protective equipment like scrubs, or other clothing worn close to the skin, at home?

Answer: It is unacceptable for contaminated PPE to be laundered at home by employees. However employees' uniforms, or scrubs which are usually worn in a manner similar to street clothes, are generally not intended to be PPE and are, therefore, not expected to be contaminated with blood or OPIM.

Universal Precautions is an approach to infection control that treats all human blood and certain human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious for HIV, HBV and other bloodborne pathogens. When you are not sure, then use Universal Precautions. It's a standard that protects you, those you work with, and your family.

The best tool for making the required labels is a DuraLabel printer. With DuraLabel you can make any size of biohazard label that is needed and include custom information as needed. Labels can be made and customized on demand. Call 1-888-326-9244. today for more information.

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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