Measures to protect staff from exposure to infectious body fluids in the workplace
Under persistent pressure and legal threats from the UFT, the Department of Education has complied with the requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard that calls for employers to take specific measures to prevent or reduce worker exposure to blood and other infectious body fluids in the workplace.
The UFT has worked relentlessly since 2004 to get the DOE to comply with the standard. As part of its efforts, the union filed numerous complaints with the state Department of Labor’s Public Employees Safety and Health bureau, which enforces safety and health in public sector workplaces. The case finally reached the state Attorney General’s Office in 2007. After conducting surveys, interviews and walk-throughs, the union worked with the attorney general to reach agreement with the DOE to develop a program that met the standard.
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard applies to all school employees considered at-risk because their job brings them into routine contact with blood and body fluids that can cause diseases such as HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. That contact may occur while providing first aid or be the result of bites, cuts or openings in the skin, needlesticks, or splashes into the eyes, nose and/or mouth while diapering or toileting a student.
By law, the DOE is required to develop an Exposure Control Plan that:
- Identifies at-risk employees;
- Outlines methods to prevent or eliminate exposure, including universal precautions and the use of safe needle devices;
- Outlines adequate personal protective equipment;
- Establishes a housekeeping, cleaning and disinfection program;
- Establishes a bloodborne pathogens training program;
- Offers Hepatitis B vaccine at no cost; and
- Offers free, confidential medical evaluation, treatment and counseling after an exposure to blood or bodily fluids during work hours.
Bloodborne Pathogens Compliance Tool
The DOE implemented a Bloodborne Pathogens Compliance Tool, an interactive database used to track the training and vaccination status of at-risk employees in each school citywide and to make the DOE Exposure Control Plan site-specific for each school. For example, once an employee is trained, the compliance tool will send an e-mail to the employee and the site administrator offering the Hepatitis B vaccine.
Who is covered?
School employees considered at-risk include all District 75 employees and those working with special education students in non-District 75 schools, one-to-one paras, health paras, school nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, adaptive physical education teachers, crisis intervention teams, laboratory teachers, laboratory specialists, designated CPR/AED and first aid responders and Epi-Pen applicators.
How at-risk employees are protected
By law, the DOE must provide at-risk employees with:
- Annual bloodborne pathogens training during working hours
- All necessary personal protective equipment
- The opportunity to get the Hepatitis B vaccine at no cost during work hours and
- Free, confidential medical evaluation, treatment and counseling after an incident
What do I do if I am exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials at work?
While most New York City school educators are not at risk, if an employee is exposed to blood or body fluids in an accident, playground scrape, bloody nose, fight, athletic injury or violent incident, treat any such incident as if the fluids are infected because there is no way to tell if a child or adult is infected with Hepatitis B or other bloodborne pathogens.
Wash the affected area with soap and water immediately. Flush eyes and exposed mucous membranes with large amounts of water and report the incident to the school’s site administrator, principal and/or chapter leader so the site administrator can coordinate the necessary medical arrangements. Be sure to seek medical attention immediately (in some cases you may need treatment within hours). If the employee gets appropriate treatment quickly, he or she can prevent infection.
- Information about the DOE’s Exposure Control Plan is available online here.
What your school must do
- Appoint the site employee safety administrator
The principal is responsible for the implementation of a bloodborne pathogens program that includes a site-specific Exposure Control Plan. The principal should appoint an administrative-level person, called the site employee safety administrator, to coordinate the school’s program.
- Determine at-risk (covered) employees
The site employee safety administrator must identify all employees whose work is likely to involve routine contact with blood or other potentially infectious body fluids.
- Complete the DOE’s Exposure Control Plan
The site administrator must adapt the generic DOE Exposure Control Plan to meet the specific needs of the site or school. The site administrator’s name and location must be posted on the Health and Safety bulletin board. The UFT recommends that the School Safety Plan refer to this information as well.
- Train at-risk employees
All at-risk employees must receive annual training either by Web seminars or in live sessions. New employees must also receive training upon being given an assignment that puts them at risk.
- Offer Hepatitis B vaccination
At-risk employees must be offered the Hepatitis B vaccine after completing training and within 10 days of assignment. The vaccine should be administered during work hours at no charge. Even if at-risk employees at first decline the Hepatitis B vaccine, they can ask for it again at any time if they change their mind. New at-risk employees must be offered the vaccine within 10 days of their assignment.
- Provide personal protective equipment
Appropriate personal protective equipment for the task must be provided to at-risk employees at no cost. For example, if there is the potential for blood/body fluids to contact one’s body or clothing during diapering or toileting activities, the employee should wear disposable aprons, sleeves and gloves.
- Have a Housekeeping, Cleaning and Disinfection Program
The site administrator for your school must develop a cleaning schedule, which must be posted in the medical office and changing rooms. All surfaces contaminated with blood and body fluids must be decontaminated with a bleach solution or a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant.
- Offer post-exposure confidential medical evaluation and counseling
The DOE must provide confidential medical evaluation and counseling to any employee who has been exposed to blood, other infectious body fluids or needlesticks. The site administrator is responsible for providing car service with a procurement card (P-card) to and from a Health and Hospitals Corporation site or your personal physician at no cost if an employee has been put at risk. All diagnoses must remain confidential.
If you believe your school is not providing employees with the protection required or there are problems with implementation of the bloodborne pathogens program at your school, please contact the UFT Safety and Health Department at 212-701-9407.