Laboratory safety is essential due to the quality, safety and risk it addresses. Safety can be defined as a method by which accidents are prevented or personal injuries and property damage caused by accidents is reduced. A medical laboratory worker’s occupation puts him/her in daily contact with human tissue, blood and other body fluids which, most often, are pathogenic. Thus, laboratory safety standards and protocols, education, and preventive measures are put in place to prevent workers from acquiring infections resulting from exposure to blood, body fluid, and tissue samples containing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
Most common cases of clinical laboratory acquired infections (LAI) are bloodborne (acquired and spread through human blood contamination with pathogenic microorganisms and other body fluids) airborne (acquired and spread through contact with infectious respiratory droplets expelled from mouth and nose, e.g. TB). Preventive Measures take into account the means by which such infections are transmitted and aim to reduce them. Some of this LAI are incurable and thus, are better prevented. “PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE”.
Knowing the risks involved in the handling and exposure to pathogenic specimens is vital to the health of the laboratory worker, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and the clients/patients. In a clinical laboratory, infection control, and safety and risk management is supreme.
With these said, what are preventive measures a clinical laboratory personnel and a healthcare worker in general has to take to ensue his/her wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around him/her, including her clients?
Precaution and Preventive measures are put in place by, most notably, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce to occurrence of nosocomial infections, and protect health workers with occupational risks of infections. These preventive measures are under the core theme of Infection Control, and include CDC set Standard Precautions, and Universal Precautions. Other measures aimed towards prevention of the two main types of pathogenic transmission are Immunization, Prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases and Prevention of Air-borne diseases transmission.
Universal (Blood and Body Fluid) Precautions and Body substance Isolation
In light of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and identification and increase in blood borne viruses in the 1980s, the CDC introduced these precautions (1983-1987). Universal Precautions (UP) are guidelines established for the protection of workers with occupational exposure to bodily fluids that contain blood-borne pathogens such as blood, semen, vaginal secretion, synovial fluid, amniotic fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, pleural fluid, peritoneal fluid and pericardial fluid (doesn’t apply to tears, faeces, nasal secretions, sputum, sweat, urine, or vomit unless there’s contamination of visible blood). The UP requires that blood and body fluids be treated as potentially infectious for patients suspected of having HIV, HBV, HCV and other blood borne pathogens. The guidelines termed as Body substance Isolation (BSI) by the CDC in 1987 states that direct physical contact with “all moist and potentially infectious substances,” even if there’s no visible evidence of blood should be avoided. The only downside to the UP and the BSI was that emphasise on hand-washing was- wash hands after removal of hand gloves if the hand gloves are dirty/soiled.
Standard precautions (SP) combine the key features of UP and BSI. In SP, blood, certain body fluids (emphasised in the UP and BSI), secretion and excretion (excluding sweat) are potentials for the transmission of infections. SP are guidelines that are used at present for control of infection in the healthcare facility. Hospital acquired diseases are known as nosocomial diseases/infections. The areas covered by SP for infection control are:
Hand hygiene/washing of hands before and after visiting a patient or working on specimens versatile
Personal Protective Equipments (these are physical barriers that protect worker from exposure to infectious substances. hand gloves, masks, eye protection or face shield and gown are PPEs). PPEs are also emphasised in UP.
Patient-care equipment and linen (equipments and clothes/linen that are contaminated with infectious substances such as blood, other body fluids, secretion and excretion should be properly handled or disposed, depending on whether they are reusable or for single use only)
Environmental control and exposure control (managing the risks involved in an infected environment in the healthcare facility and how to contain fatal accidents)
Safe injection procedures (remember to recap needles and sharps after use, a mistake commonly made)
Occupational health and blood borne pathogens
Protocols of surface disinfection
The most specific way to protect one against infections is by getting immunized. It is the process of fortifying an individual against an infectious agent. The two types of immunization are Passive and Active immunization. Vaccination is an example of an active immunization. An example of passive immunization is the transference of antibodies from a mother to the foetus for protection before and after birth. Artificial passive immunization also exists.
Strategies are designed to protect the healthcare worker from hazardous conditions involving the use the equipments by putting a barrier between the worker and the source of hazards. Examples of an engineered control are biosafety cabinets.
Prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs)
These are precautions used when someone is suspected
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