Universal Precautions may be a common phrase in the world of healthcare but to the average American, they are unfamiliar words. When it comes to our health, everyone should learn and practice them well. Back in the early 1980s, HIV was introduced to the United States. It seemed like every night, the evening news talked about a new virus called AIDS.
At that time, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a document called "Guideline for Isolation Precautions in Hospitals", which included a section dealing with blood and bodily fluid precautions. Five years later the CDC published "Recommendations for Prevention of HIV Transmission in Health Care Settings". The new document recommended that bodily fluids, infected or not, should be considered potentially infectious.
"OSHA requires employees to observe Universal Precautions"
Why is this important to the average American worker? While you might not be in the healthcare industry, you work with people and there is always the potential for an accident or medical emergency to occur among your co-workers. In many instances, bodily fluids leave the victim and expose rescue workers and good samaritans trying to help.
Now, in a work setting, OSHA requires “Employees to observe Universal Precautions to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM)”. Now known as Universal Precautions, this approach to infection control helps reduce the risk of unprotected exposure to potentially infectious bodily fluids. Treating all human blood and some human body fluids as if they were infected with HIV or HBV leaves out the guesswork of how to treat such situations.
Other Potentially Infectious Materials known as OPIM include human body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, saliva in dental procedures, and any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood. This also includes other body fluids that are difficult or impossible to tell the difference between body fluids.
As part of Universal Precautions, the CDC recommends the use of gloves, masks, eyewear, face shields, barrier gowns, and other Personal Protection Equipment to reduce exposure. As always, engineering and work practice controls should also be implemented to limit exposure. These links will provide more details about the OSHA standard and CDC guidelines about Bloodborne Pathogens and Universal Precautions. We also wrote "Bloodborne Pathogens and the Typical American Worker" which gives a nice overview of what it is and why it is important.