OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 35 Health Care and Industries with Biological Hazards

Section 529 Limited exposure

The employer is required to keep worker exposure to biohazardous materials as low as reasonably practicable. The results of the employer’s hazard assessment should provide direction as to where and how worker exposure can be minimized or eliminated.

Section 7 of the OHS Code requires an employer to assess a work site to identify existing or potential hazards before work begins. Where workers may be occupationally exposed to biohazardous materials, the assessment must include exposure to biohazardous materials as one of the assessed hazards. The resulting hazard assessment report must be in writing as required by section 8 of the OHS Regulation.

The purpose of the hazard assessment is to determine the jobs, tasks and procedures for which exposure to a biohazardous material is possible and to evaluate the likelihood that such exposure will occur. The factors to be considered vary with the work site and the type of biohazardous material to which workers are potentially exposed. It is only necessary to assess work where there is potential for exposure.

When evaluating the potential for exposure, the following sources of information should be considered:

(a) the employer’s first aid records and incident or accident investigation reports – these may help to determine what type of injuries are occurring, where they are occurring, and perhaps the causes of those injuries;

(b) WCB claims – these may help to determine what type of injuries are occurring, where they are occurring, and perhaps the causes of those injuries;

(c) injury performance data for similar industries, injury performance of other employers in the same area, and industries dealing with the same client group;

(d) information available from agencies such as Alberta Health and Wellness, Health Canada, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Where reasonably practicable, the employer must involve affected workers in the performance of the hazard assessment and in the control or elimination of those hazards identified by the hazard assessment. The results of the hazard assessment must be communicated to those workers affected by its findings.

Section 9 of the OHS Code requires employers to take measures to eliminate the hazard or, where elimination is not reasonably practicable, control the hazard. Figure 35.1 summarizes the hierarchy of control that must be followed:

Figure 35.1 Hazard elimination or control flowchart

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls reduce worker exposure to biohazardous materials by either removing or isolating the hazard, or isolating workers from exposure. Examples of engineering controls include:

(a) sharps containers;
(b) safety-engineered medical sharps;
(c) splatter guards;
(d) mechanical waste compacting systems;
(e) biological safety cabinets;
(f) mechanical pipetting systems in laboratories.

Administrative controls

Administrative controls reduce the likelihood of worker exposure to biohazardous materials by altering the way a task is performed. Examples of administrative controls include:

(a) hand washing immediately after removal of gloves and as soon as possible after skin contact with biohazardous materials;
(b) disposing of contaminated sharps immediately after use in a readily available sharps container;
(c) immediately cleaning up spills of biohazardous materials with equipment and supplies appropriate to the type and quantity of material spilled;
(d) prohibiting the recapping of waste needles;
(e) preventing the storage of food and beverages in refrigerators or freezers where biohazardous materials are present.

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used once engineering and administrative controls, alone or in combination, have been unable to eliminate or control a particular hazard. PPE should always be thought of as the last line of defense, the “last resort”.

PPE should not be used as a substitute for engineering and/or administrative controls. PPE is designed to create a barrier against workplace hazards. Readers are referred to Part 18 of the OHS Code for information describing employer and worker duties involving PPE.

The OHS Code does not specify the type of PPE required for all work site circumstances. The choice of what type of PPE is required must be based on the specific exposure circumstances found at the work site. Examples of appropriate PPE may include gloves, gowns, puncture-proof footwear, laboratory coat, coveralls and booties, faceshield, splash goggles, resuscitation barrier, eye protection and respirator. For airborne or aerosolized exposure to biohazardous material, an approved particulate respirator may be required.

A worker must not fail to use PPE simply because

(a) the patient is perceived to be “low risk”,
(b) a respirator will frighten the patient,
(c) exposure time will be “short”, or
(d) the gloves provided are either too large, decrease the sensation of touch and/or hinder the ability to work. Under these circumstances, gloves appropriate to the worker and task have not been provided.