A blood spill is more than an inconvenient mess. In a home, school, or workplace, cleaning blood spills may pose health risks. Proper cleanup procedures reduce these risks.
Pathogens and Precautions
The United States Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) define bloodborne pathogens as "microorganisms that are present in human blood and can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)." Because pathogens are in blood and may cause infection when in direct contact with open wounds or mucus membranes, OSHA developed "universal precautions" to protect people in settings such as schools, hospitals, and workplace environments where people are at risk for cuts or puncture wounds. Universal precautions are an approach to infection control in which "all human blood and certain human body fluids are treated as if known to be infectious for HIV, HBV and other bloodborne pathogens." Safe procedures for cleaning a blood spill follow universal precautions.
Common sense, preparation and caution are important when cleaning a spill. Instinct says to act quickly, but taking time for common-sense measures reduces risks. Jan Harris of Sharps Compliance, Inc., stresses that people should not touch potentially contaminated broken glass or other objects with hands. While wearing gloves is good protection, sharp items can puncture gloves. Using tongs or forceps to remove broken glass avoids contact with hands. She emphasizes that cleaning and discarding materials is not sufficient. "To comply with OSHA regulations, businesses must have a system for the safe and compliant cleanup, containment and disposal of the resulting waste." Workplaces need a "plan as to how clean-up and disposal are to be controlled. Keeping sharps and other biohazardous waste out of the trash is essential to protecting other employees, customers, waste workers and the environment."
Having appropriate materials helps people handle spills safely. Kelly M. Pyrek of Infection Control Today says that well-stocked "spill kits" should be located throughout health-care facilities. This is true of any environment where blood exposure is likely. Pyrek suggests that kits include at least the following: "gloves, protective eyewear, disposable face masks, disposable gowns or aprons and antiseptic towelettes," as well as "spill cleanup equipment, including disposable absorbent material such as pads, pillows and cloths, red medical-waste or biohazard bags for disposal, an appropriate germicidal solution and forceps or other mechanical means to pick up sharps and other hazardous material."
Pyrek and OSHA recommend specific steps for cleaning spills. First, wear gloves and protective clothing. Keep people away from the area. Contain the spill by using absorbent materials found in the spill kit. Remove sharp items using forceps. "Place the hazardous materials in a thick-walled plastic bag, plastic-lined cardboard box or other solid container that will prevent the sharps from puncturing the surface and creating an opportunity for leakage. Place this container or bag into the red biohazard bag for proper disposal." Use an appropriate disinfectant, but do not spray causing blood to splatter. Leave the disinfectant in contact with blood for several minutes. Place used absorbent materials in unsealed plastic bags. Repeat the process with new cloths. Allow the area to dry. Follow instructions for special cleaners in a kit. Place remaining materials in unsealed bags. Remove protective gear. "The items should be removed in the following order: Remove the soiled gown or apron, remove the outer pair of disposable gloves and remove the face mask and protective eyewear." Seal bags after all material is inside. Discard bags in the appropriate place for biohazards. Wash hands.
Products and Resources
Purchase pre-assembled kits and individual items at online and offline retailers. Extremely big spills or traumatic circumstances may require the services of a company specializing in biohazard cleanup. Proper equipment, common sense and universal precautions make cleanup of blood spills effective and safe.