Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

In this lesson, we will define what an occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens is. We will also identify how healthcare workers can avoid occupational exposure with training and equipment.

Occupational Exposure

Jill is a nurse at a busy clinic and regularly sees patients with a variety of injuries and diseases. Her duties carry an inherent risk of getting sick because of the close contact with patients. Of particular concern are bloodborne pathogens, which include diseases that can be transmitted by coming into contact with an infected patient's blood such as HIV and hepatitis B. Let's take a look at what it's called when a healthcare worker is exposed to bloodborne pathogens as part of his or her job as well as how infections can be avoided.

As matter of worker safety, its essential to treat all blood encountered in healthcare settings as if it contains a bloodborne pathogen. Bloodborne pathogens can be spread through any contact that results in infected blood coming into contact with a non-infected person's bloodstream. This can occur through unprotected sexual activity or shared needle use. While healthcare workers are not having unprotected sex or doing drugs with their patients, there are unfortunately opportunities to still become exposed.

Patients may bleed onto a member of the healthcare team, or someone might get accidentally stuck with a needle that has already been used on the patient. Bites and scratches from a patient can also possibly result in contracting a bloodborne pathogen. Other bodily fluids a healthcare worker may come into contact with can also contain blood. These kinds of potential infection contacts are known as occupational exposures.

Prevention Training

So, how can Jill make sure that she or a coworker prevents an occupational exposure from happening in the first place? Prevention begins with training. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all new healthcare employees train upon initial hire, on a recurring annual basis, and whenever new equipment or techniques related to bloodborne pathogen exposure are introduced.

Training includes using techniques that prevent the chance of exposure. For example, Jill uses a scoop technique to put caps back on needles. Rather than use her fingers to put a cap back on a needle, she picks up the cap using the end of the needle. Once the sharp point is covered by the cap she can then secure it with her fingers. Training also covers how to properly use a variety of equipment designed to prevent occupational exposures.


There are a number of pieces of equipment Jill uses in the clinic to avoid the chances of an occupational exposure. She uses personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, masks, face shields, or goggles to prevent physically coming into contact with blood. These products, along with other occupational exposure prevention equipment, must be provided to Jill by her employer at no cost to her. Jill is also required under OSHA regulations to be offered a hepatitis B vaccine at no cost to her in order to protect her against occupational exposure to the disease.

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