Exposure Incident: Definition & Procedures

Instructor: Jose Hernandez
This lesson will explain what an exposure incident is. It will also include a sample protocol of what to do in case of an exposure incident, and explain why each protocol should be specific to different settings.

What is an Exposure Incident?

You are helping a doctor give vaccines to a child. The child is extremely nervous and squirms around, and you accidentally get poked with the needle. Or maybe you are assisting during a surgery. You accidentally cut yourself with a sharp blade that has previously been used on a patient. In either of these situations, you have experienced an exposure incident.

Operating rooms are a common setting for exposure incidents
Operating rooms are a common setting for exposure incidents

An exposure incident is a situation when the eye, mouth, mucous membranes, or even non-intact skin comes into contact with blood or other potentially infectious material. A potentially infectious material can be considered any fluid such as saliva, semen, blood, or phlegm that has the potential to carry viruses or potentially hazardous material. Even if the equipment was originally sterile, and the patient has not been diagnosed with any disease, any exposure incident should be treated as if the equipment has been exposed to a dangerous pathogen.

Although there are a several forms of exposure incidents by different materials, this lesson will cover the risks associated with blood born pathogens such as the human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus. We will first learn about the federal agency responsible to set a standard to avoid any exposure incidents.

What is OSHA and why is it so important?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed guidelines called the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to be used in case of an exposure incident. OSHA is a federal agency in charge of assuring safe and healthful working conditions for people in the private sector and federal positions. Their mission is to provide training, community outreach, education, and assistance to working people. Although this lesson covers exposure incidents with blood born pathogens, OSHA is also responsible for setting guidelines for a wide range of settings, including constructions sites, nuclear plants, and places where dangerous equipment or material might be present. We will next cover what to do in case of an exposure incident

What Happens After an Exposure Incident?

An exposure incident can occur in several different settings. It can happen in a medical clinic while giving vaccines. It can happen during surgery as previously described, in a dental office, or even a tattoo shop. Exposure incidents can occur in a wide range of settings; therefore a plan should be made specifically for each setting.

A common plan includes:

  1. Providing immediate care to exposed area - The effected area should be washed with water and soap immediately after exposure. If exposure occurs in the eyes, the person exposed should rinse their eyes for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Inform supervisor - An immediate supervisor should be informed of the exposure to determine the next step of action.
  3. Determine the area of exposure
  4. Evaluate the source of exposure - Testing the source for bloodborne pathognes may determine whether or not the exposed person needs testing as well.
  5. Refer employee to a health care provider - An exposed person should be referred to a health care facility to perform any necessary testing. A person might deny any further testing; however, it is recommended that testing for infectious diseases be performed.
  6. Follow up - Depending on the tests being performed for pathogens and infectious diseases, the time for results to arrive might differ. It is therefore recommended that a follow up visit to the health care provider be performed.

Washing an exposed area with water and soap should be the first step when dealing with an exposure incident
Washing an exposed area with water and soap should be the first step when dealing with an exposure incident

A detailed plan should be available for everyone working in the facility. It should be reviewed upon hiring to inform the new employee of the protocol to follow in case of an exposure. As a precaution, the hepatitis B vaccine should be made available to all employees to prevent infections in case of an exposure.

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