The Hazards of Cleaning Bloodborne Pathogens
If you asked the average carpet cleaner what they felt was the principle health-related condition that may affect them as a result of carpet cleaning, I think the answers would revolve around slip/fall injuries, lower back problems and repetitive motion (carpal tunnel syndrome) complications. Very few would ever think about biological problems such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis. Yet, if you agree to perform restoration or spotting work involving blood, vomit, sewage, or body parts, then you are exposing yourself, your employees and possibly your family to these potentially fatal infections.
OSHA StandardsThere is enough government concern about workers coming in contact with potentially infectious substances that in 1991 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued regulation #29 CFR 1910.1030 covering Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens, which has become known as the “Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.” This regulation spells out extensive precautions that must be followed when blood and other bodily fluids are encountered in the workplace.
If the phone rings and it’s a property manager who wants crew sent out to clean up a blood spill, then your activities and cleanup procedures will be governed by this OSHA standard. Before spot removal is attempted where small blood spots are present only on the tips of the fibers, the area should be sanitized with an EPA-registered disinfectant approved for use on carpet or upholstery to eliminate biological contaminants. If wet extracted, recovered solutions must be disposed in accordance with the OSHA standard up to, and including, disposal as a biohazardous waste. Small amounts of waste may be disposed of down the drain. However, before undertaking a task such as this, you should attend a training class on the bloodborne pathogens standard and have in place an Exposure Control Plan.
Developing an Exposure Control PlanYour crews must be outfitted with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gloves (chemical resistant), gowns or suits, lab coats, masks (respirators), and eye protection (goggles). These are to be provided at the expense of the cleaning or restoration firm’s expense and must be reasonably accessible. Any employee who may be exposed to work situations involving bloodborne pathogens or Other Potentially Infectious Material (OPIM) must be offered the Hepatitis B vaccination series at the owner’s expense (about $150). If any of your staff responds to a scene involving bloodborne pathogens or other potentially infectious material and any of this material comes in contact with their skin, eyes, mucous membrane, or in some way contacts the employees own blood as a result of a needle, tackless strip, cut abrasion or piercing of the skin barrier, then as the owner you must make available to the employee at no charge a medical examination and any necessary follow-up. Records relating to any incident such as this must be retained for the duration of the employee’s employment plus an additional 30 years. Equipment must be decontaminated with household bleach diluted 10:1 or with a suitable disinfectant such as some quats.
There are many scenarios to consider when responding to that property manager’s call. Be aware, I have hit only the high spots of this regulation. The entire regulation is 178 pages long. Read it! Non-compliance can bring fines anywhere from $7,000 to $70,000.
The other common situation for a carpet cleaner is the call from the client who has had a sewage backup into a structure and wants you to “save ” the carpet. Put away your white hat—this is an impossible task. As the great American poet Jimmy Buffett once said, “I can’t be your hero today!” It is generally accepted in the restoration industry that absorbent materials, which have been exposed to sewage, cannot be disinfected and should be disposed. Any recovered wastes must be disposed of down a sanitary sewer.
Once again, PPE come into play including impervious suits for all techs. Any piece of clothing that may have come into contact with sewage should be discarded.
If you’d like a copy of the accepted industry standards for spills and wastewater contamination, then order a copy of IICRC S500 Water Damage Restoration Standards from the IICRC offices in Vancouver, Wash. This standard should provide any documentation you need to proceed safely and completely.
As tempting and lucrative it may be to accept these types of challenges and dares, the risks to you and yours are too great. Thorough decontamination of equipment and clothes is absolutely necessary to protect the health of all involved. Why try to be a hero to salvage something that is probably covered by insurance?
Although scenarios such as the above certainly come with bragging rights, they are seldom worth the cost in extra labor, discomfort, risk and potential loss. Control the urge to say “Yes we can fix that!” Instead, refer the call to someone you know is prepared to handle this type situation. You may even get a referral fee while you stayed home and watched Monday night football instead of risking your or employee’s health. See you next month!
Educate Yourself & Your Cleaning Technicians on Bloodborne Pathogens On Dec. 6, 1991, OSHA established a standard designed to protect millions of workers in the healthcare and related occupations where the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens (HIV, Hepatitis B) was high. Included in this standard are procedures and precautionary measures for employees in the carpet cleaning, restoration, janitorial and floor maintenance fields.
The comprehensive standard includes details on:
- Establishing Exposure Control Plans and annual review of said plans;
- Decontamination of equipment and working surfaces;
- Protective equipment and laundering procedures
- Hepatitis B vaccinations;
- Labeling waste and specimens for transportation or disposal;
- Medical and training record compliances.
Before undertaking an assignment that may pose a bloodborne pathogen hazard, ask for a copy of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard available from the Government Printing Office (GPO Order Number 069-001-0004-8, Superintendent of Documents, Washington D.C. 20402, or log onto www.osha-slc.gov.