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Bloodborne Pathogens Standard Coverage for Needlestick Injury Prevention Becomes Effective

  • April 6, 2001

As reported in the January/February 2001 issue of The Health Care Employer, changes in the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard intended to reduce needlestick injuries among healthcare workers and others who handle medical sharps became effective April 18. Mandated by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, the changes were officially published on January 18, 2001. The revisions require employers to select safer needle devices as they become available and to involve employees in identifying and choosing the devices. The revised standard also requires employers with 11 or more employees to maintain a log of injuries from contaminated sharps. Under the standard, a number of industries classified as low-hazard-retail, service, finance, insurance and real estate sectors are exempt from most requirements of recordkeeping; those same industries are exempt from maintaining a sharps injury log.

The excerpts below are from the OSHA statement issued just prior to the standard becoming effective:

Specifically, the revised OSHA blood-borne pathogens standard obligates employers to consider safer needle devices when they conduct their annual review of their exposure control plan. Safer sharps are considered appropriate engineering controls, the best strategy for worker protection. Involving front-line employees in selecting safer devices will help ensure that workers who are using the equipment have the opportunity for input into purchasing decisions. The new needlestick log will help both employees and employers track all needlesticks to help identify problem areas or operations. The updated standard also includes provisions designed to maintain the privacy of employees who have experienced needlesticks.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is reaching out to educate employers, health care workers and the general public on the revised needlestick portions of the bloodborne pathogens standard. OSHA's education effort includes a collection of written materials designed to explain specific aspects of the standard. Materials are available on OSHA's website.

During the outreach period, OSHA will not enforce the new provisions of the standard that require employers to maintain a sharps injury log and involve non-managerial employees in selecting safer medical devices. Enforcement of these new provisions will begin on July 17, 2001. Meanwhile, enforcement will continue for requirements that employers select safer needle devices as they become available (these have been required since the bloodborne pathogens standard was effective in 1992).

Publications and curriculum recommendations will be used to help educate employers and workers in health care settings. For example, OSHA is drawing upon its existing partnerships with public sector and professional organizations in this effort. OSHA is also making available a presentation package through its education centers that offer training courses for the private and public sectors.

Editor's Note: OSHA reports that it is extending its "partnership efforts with other agencies, associations and labor organizations" for purposes of educating health care workers about the needlestick requirements. The Service Employees International Union and other health care unions have been vocal advocates for the needlestick prevention requirements, stressing their importance through lobbying efforts and in organizing health care workers.

OSHA's announcement that it will enlist the assistance of labor unions in its education and outreach programs should put health care employers on notice of an even greater opportunity for the SEIU and others to have access to employees. Health care employers should consider pre-empting the unions and implementing their own needlestick prevention education and training programs.

©2001 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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