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Friday, October 31, 2014
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Informer: OSHA standard mandates vaccine availability

Last Modified: Saturday, February 02, 2013 9:56 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

I work for a home health agency, and I was bitten by a client. But my employer refuses to pay for a hepatitis shot. Who should I call?

Contact the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration at 800-321-6742. The TTY number is 877-889-5627.

The agency, which sets and enforces standards for workplace safety, has an office in the state. The address is 9100 Bluebonnet Centre Blvd., Suite 201, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. The phone number is 225-298-5458; the fax number is 225-298-5457.

Additionally, OSHA has a regional office in Dallas. The phone number is 972-850-4145; the fax number is 972-850-4149.

The latest U.S. Public Health Service guidelines for managing occupational exposure to hepatitis say saliva isn’t considered “potentially infectious” unless it contains blood and that the risk of contracting hepatitis B from a bite is “extremely low.”

But under the federal Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, health care agencies must “make available the hepatitis B vaccine and vaccination series to all employees who have occupational exposure,” and they must do so “at no cost to the employee.”

The regulations define “occupational exposure” as “reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee’s duties.”

“Parenteral,” the standard reads, “means piercing mucous membranes or the skin barrier through such events as needlesticks, human bites, cuts, and abrasions.”

A 1993 court ruling limits the application of parts of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard in home health agencies, but the vaccination mandate and other “non-site-specific requirements” still stand.

“OSHA determined that the employer will not be held responsible for the following site-specific violations: housekeeping requirements, such as the maintenance of a clean and sanitary worksite and the handling and disposal of regulated waste; ensuring the use of personal protective equipment; and ensuring that specific work practices are followed (e.g., handwashing with running water) and ensuring the use of engineering controls,” reads the agency’s guidelines on enforcing the standard.

“The employer will be held responsible for all non-site-specific requirements of the standard, including the non-site specific requirements of the exposure control plan, hepatitis B vaccinations, post exposure evaluation and follow-up, recordkeeping, and the generic training requirements. OSHA will also cite employers for failure to supply appropriate personal protective equipment to employees.”

A final note: The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires employers to inform at-risk workers of the availability of the vaccine, and it says that those who decline the shot must sign a declination statement — acknowledging their awareness of the risk and their recognition that the employer will provide the vaccine in the future if they change their minds.

Online: www.osha.gov.

• • •

The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email informer@americanpress.com

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