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Injured by Bloodborne Pathogens

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who works as a laundry worker at a hospital. She was stabbed with a bloody needle wrapped up in bed linens that arrived in the laundry for cleaning. She wanted to discuss her legal rights.

The risk of infection with bloodborne pathogens is dependent on the likelihood of exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials wherever that exposure occurs.

Even a single exposure incident may result in infection and subsequent illness or death.

Blood has long been recognized as a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms.

An effort was begun fifty years ago to protect people by requiring precautions in handling the blood and body fluids of patients known to be infected with bloodborne pathogens.

This early regulatory effort proved ineffective. While it is, of course, wise to label blood specimens taken from high-risk patients. Other patients whose infection status is unknown may present a similar threat of contamination.

So, treating all blood or tissue as potentially contaminated and dangerous makes better sense.

This means dental patients, trauma victims, and blood donors should be considered potentially infectious and require rigorous infection control precautions to minimize the risk of exposure.

Healthcare workers, such as nurses and physicians employed in hospitals who provide patient care and have occupational exposure, are at risk for infection by bloodborne pathogens.

But so too are other hospital employees, such as those handling hospital laundry, housekeeping, and working in clinical and diagnostic labs.

Like the caller’s case, one case we handled recently involved a hospital housekeeper who was removing bed linen after a patient died of an HIV-related complication. While removing the linen, she was stabbed with a blood-contaminated needle left in the bed.

But, as in the case of the caller, if the housekeeper avoids being stuck with a needle and the linen is delivered to the laundry, the laundry workers are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

OSHA has developed regulations and guidelines to prevent occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials.

The regulations apply to human blood, human blood components, and products made from human blood. The regulations help protect individuals from exposure to bloodborne Pathogens, such as hepatitis B (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The regulations apply to clinical laboratories and laundries handling fabrics soiled with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may contain sharps.

Contaminated Sharps means any contaminated object that can penetrate the skin, including needles, scalpels, broken glass, broken capillary tubes, and exposed ends of dental wires.

But more than blood is at issue.

Other potentially infectious materials include body fluid secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, and any bodily fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood.

Employers are to develop plans to prevent exposure. An employer must solicit input from non-managerial employees responsible for direct patient care who are potentially exposed to injuries from contaminated sharps.

The regulations take up hundreds of pages and are too numerous to summarize here.

The bottom line is that the caller will have a worker’s compensation claim and potentially a claim against responsible third parties.

The caller may be entitled to periodic screening tests to quickly catch any illness that may develop due to the needle stick.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”