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What are Universal Precautions?

What are Universal Precautions?

August 19, 2021 | Last Updated: August 19, 2021
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Working in a hospital setting is not an easy job. Working with patients can be dangerous if you are not careful. There are endless precautions to take and terms to know. In order to assist someone going into cardiac arrest, you must perform CPR, which could lead to being exposed to bodily fluids. You should always take certain precautions before helping a patient experiencing cardiac arrest. 

Universal precautions, which were established by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 1985 in order to protect healthcare workers from the HIV epidemic, are an essential tool for healthcare workers helping patients experiencing cardiac arrest or other health problems and events. They prevent the exposure and transmission of bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs). Today, universal precautions are essential knowledge for working in the medical field. They help healthcare workers protect everyone in the hospital. 

Originally, the universal precautions guideline the CDC put into place was only for instances involving blood. But in 1987, the CDC added a universal precaution guideline called Body Substance Isolation. Then, in 1996, the CDC introduced standard precautions, which are a mix of both universal precautions and body substance isolation. 

It is important to know the difference between these precautions. While they may all work to safeguard the health of individuals, they do not all do the same thing. 

Purpose of Universal Precautions

The purpose of universal health precautions training is to help healthcare workers understand ways to shield individuals against bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials. In hospital settings, health workers are at risk of being exposed to and transmitting bloodborne pathogens when helping patients. Universal precautions help protect patients first and foremost, but the universal precautions guidelines are also for keeping health workers safe. 

It is important to know what exactly the universal precautions guideline will safeguard you from and what it won’t. Despite the name, the universal precautions guideline does not fight against all dangers of the medical work field.

Universal Precautions on Body Fluids

There are many bodily fluids that the universal precautions guideline will help protect against. Health professionals should always know the universal precautions for working with blood, and always wear gloves and the appropriate uniform to help shield themselves and their patients.

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), OPIMs cover a long list of body fluids. These fluids include:

  • all body fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids
  • amniotic fluid
  • body fluid contaminated with blood
  • cerebrospinal fluid
  • pericardial fluid
  • peritoneal fluid
  • pleural fluid
  • saliva
  • semen
  • synovial fluid
  • vaginal secretions

All of the body fluids that the universal precautions cover are due to their potential to transmit either HIV or Hepatitis B. However, a few body fluids are of lesser concern due to their lack of potential in transmitting these two diseases. 

As a result, universal precautions don’t focus on phlegm, feces, urine, vomit, tears, sweat, or any kind of mucus. However, the presence of blood is the most important factor in universal precautions. 

So if any of these fluids contain visible blood, health care professionals must follow universal precautions. 

Universal Precautions Kit (Equipment)

To practice universal precautions when dealing with specific body fluids, doctors and healthcare workers need to wear gloves and proper clothing. Sometimes, healthcare workers will incorporate other equipment, depending on the situation. 

A universal precautions kit will come with standard safety tools in case a situation outside of a hospital requires it. For example, if there is blood in a restaurant that someone needs to clean, they will want to practice universal precautions in the workplace. Universal precaution kits will also come with instructions in the case that someone does not know what to do with the materials inside. 

These kits include:

1. Face Masks/Shields

Face masks and shields help prevent inhaling or ingesting airborne blood, spit, and other infectious materials.

2. Aprons

Aprons will help defend you and your clothes from infectious materials. Even if you don’t touch the infectious materials directly, you can still expose yourself by later touching contaminated  clothes.

3. Gloves

Gloves will protect your hands from germs and infectious materials.

4. Hand Wipes

Hand wipes will usually contain an antibacterial agent that can help you sanitize the area.

5. Scraper

A handheld scraper will typically come in a universal precautions kit to help with cleaning difficult biohazards.

6. Biohazard Bag

When you are done cleaning up the substance, you can dispose of it in a biohazard bag. This bag lets everyone in the area know not to touch it. 

7. Tag to Mark the Incident

Once you clean and dispose of the mess, you can mark the scene to prevent people from interacting with that area.

Bloodborne Pathogens: How to Protect Yourself

Having the right equipment is a great first step. However, you must also know how to shield yourself from bloodborne pathogens in any situation where you might be at risk. Here are three ways that you can protect yourself:

1. Wash Your Hands Frequently

This one is obvious, but still very important. Society saw a rise in the importance of handwashing through the COVID-19 pandemic. But washing your hands  often will also help you defend against any bloodborne pathogens.

When you wash your hands is just as important as how often. Wash your hands before and after you eat, to avoid infectious materials entering the mouth.

2. Wear the Right Masks

The pandemic also gave the general public a lesson on the importance of not just wearing masks, but knowing which masks are best for different situations.

For example, there are certain masks you can use during CPR to prevent exposure to infectious materials. These masks provide a one-way valve to help you avoid contact with the person receiving CPR.

Face shields are suitable for situations that do not require direct facial contact with a patient.

3. Choose Appropriate Equipment

The standard gloves, goggles, and apron combination are a good way to go. But different situations may call for extra equipment. As a rule of thumb, try to treat every fluid like an infectious material. By doing so, you can help prevent yourself from infection.

Sometimes HAZMAT suits may be necessary for situations that involve cleaning up biohazards. These suits provide head-to-toe protection against infectious materials.