Clinical and Public Health Microbiology

Pathogen Exposures Faced by Healthcare Workers Have Increased, But So Has Worker Awareness

Data collected in 2015 by the International Safety Center (ISC) through EPINet (the Exposure Prevention Information Network) revealed that there was a marked increase in injuries for sharps and needlesticks among training physicians (residents and interns), an overall increase in injuries sustained in the operating room, and a decrease in the use of safety-engineered medical devices since its 2014 survey.  A greater proportion of blood and body fluid splashes and splatters are occurring in patient rooms and exam rooms than in years past, and almost two-thirds of them involved healthcare workers’ eyes.  This was concerning because fewer than 7% of the workers in the survey were wearing protective eyewear at the time of exposure.

“While the 2015 EPINet data suggest that pathogen exposure risks to healthcare workers are on the rise, they also indicate that workers are increasingly aware that these exposures are preventable,” said Ginger Parker, the Center’s chief information officer and deputy director.  She added that, in 2014, only about 30% of injured or exposed healthcare workers said they felt the injury could have been prevented by engineering controls, other technologies, or changes in administrative work practices.  In 2015, that number had risen to 48.7% of workers reporting sharps injuries and 68.6% of workers exposed to blood and body fluid splashes.

Elise Handelman, former director of the Office of Nursing at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and currently an ISC faculty member remarked that when the scientific community first began trying to reduce the transmission of bloodborne pathogens 25 years ago, it knew the problem went beyond HIV and chronic hepatitis infections.  Because exposure risks are continually shifting and changing as pathogens evolve, she thought only a universal approach to reducing blood exposures would be able to meet the challenges the medical community faces with Ebola, malaria, Zika, and other bloodborne diseases.

Promoting protective safety clothing is a focus of ISC’s Call to Action.  The Center noted that the 2010-2014 data showed that around 70% of all reported occupational splash or splatter exposures involving body fluids involved blood, yet more than 40% of the affected workers said they were wearing everyday clothes or non-protective scrubs or uniforms when the exposure occurred and only 17% were wearing protective gowns.  Rather than rely on previous safety regimens, the document called for innovative approaches to reducing exposure.

The Consensus Statement and Call to Action were formulated by representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the Association of Federal Government Employees, the Healthcare Surfaces Summit, and the Association for the Healthcare Environment.

The Consensus Statement and Call to Action can be found at