OSHA regs require precautions

Physicians, dentists, hospitals, nursing homes, and other employers must require their workers to follow "universal precautions" against contracting infectious diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis B, according to regulations published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Under universal precautions, blood and certain other bodily fluids are assumed to be contaminated with HIV or other infectious agents. Therefore, workers must wear gloves and other forms of protection while performing activities likely to expose them to blood.

Established by the national Centers for Disease Control in the early 1980s, universal precautions were already being practiced by most doctors and hospitals on a voluntary basis, according to OSHA.

But under regulations taking effect this month, the use of universal precautions is no longer voluntary. The new rules require employers to provide their workers with protective gear, free vaccinations against hepatitis B, infection control training, and medical follow-up after possible exposure to infection.

The regulations, published in the Dec. 6 issue of the Federal Register, will affect approximately 4.9 million workers in the health-care profession and another 700,000 workers who routinely come in contact with blood, including law enforcement officers, fire and rescue squad personnel, corrections facility officers, laboratory researchers, undertakers, and people in the linen service industry.

Physicians will spend an average of $1,179 per year on universal precautions, OSHA estimates, while dentists will spend about $873.

The new regulations could prevent about 200 deaths and 8,200 blood-borne infections each year, OSHA predicts.

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