Standard vs Universal Precautions: What's the Difference?

Are Standard and Universal Precautions the Same?

Not quite. While some may interchange these terms, OSHA has delineated the different regulations for items that fall under these three categories:

  • Universal precautions (UP), which cover bloodborne pathogens (BBP)
  • Standard precautions (SP)
  • Transmission-based precautions (TBP)

This article will cover some of the basic requirements and their differences. Staying compliant protects you and your patients, community, and family at home. Reduce your chances of transmission with up-to-date safety training!

Universal and Standard Precautions are two essential safety measures to reduce the risk of spreading infections in healthcare settings. They are often confused, but it is important to understand the differences between them.

Universal Precautions are guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that protect healthcare workers from exposure to potentially infectious materials. Standard Precautions are a more comprehensive set of safety protocols used to protect healthcare workers and patients from infection. This article will discuss the differences between Universal and Standard Precautions and how they can be used effectively in healthcare settings.

What are Universal Precautions?

Universal precautions were developed in the mid-1980s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a response to the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other bloodborne pathogens (BBP), such as hepatitis B. Universal precautions are based on the principle that all blood and bodily fluids should be treated as if they are infectious, regardless of whether the source is known to be infected.

When handling blood and bodily fluids, healthcare workers must use protective barriers, such as gloves, gowns, masks, surgical caps, shoe/boot covers, and eyewear. Healthcare workers should not eat or drink in or around blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM). They must also use appropriate disposal methods for contaminated materials, which include laundry, waste, and equipment.

A great example includes the disposal of and no-recapping policy around needles. When a nurse takes a blood sample from a patient, they should not recap it, as this increases the likelihood of accidentally sticking themselves with the used needle.

A needle (whether used or not) should never be tossed into the regular trash bin but disposed of in a red sharps container. This protects the patient, nurse, and any janitor who collects the trash bag later. When the trash is shipped to a disposal facility, anyone handling the rubbish is protected.

If you’re unsure how to handle various situations or bodily fluids, you must polish your technique and knowledge with training.

What are Standard Precautions?

In 1996, the CDC and Healthcare Infection Control & Prevention Advisory Committee acknowledged that many pathogens could be transmitted in other ways, not just through blood. 

Universal precautions are applicable to all patients, while standard precautions provide an additional layer of protection for those at higher risk of transmitting certain infections. Together, they create a comprehensive and effective strategy for reducing the risk of healthcare-associated diseases.

For example, studies found that urine contains high levels of Zika virus and Ebola can be transmitted in just about every type of bodily fluid. SP introduced the PPE method of using secure N95 masks and bolstered hand hygiene practices.

Standard precautions outline that contact with urine, saliva, feces, vomit, nasal secretions, sputum, and even breast milk can be contagious and should be handled as such. Click here for a comprehensive list of what bodily fluids fall under universal, standard, or both.

What are Transmission-based Precautions (TBP)?

TBP augmented SP with additional controls for contact, droplet, and airborne transmissible diseases. Patients suffering from COVID-19 or tuberculosis, for example, are to be placed in isolation in a pressurized room, so air cannot escape into the rest of the hospital ward.

In summary, standard and universal precautions are essential for preventing the spread of infectious diseases in healthcare settings. The CDC and OSHA have established comprehensive guidelines and regulations for implementing these safety measures, which are designed to protect healthcare personnel and patients from transmitting infectious diseases. Standard precautions are critical to providing safe, effective healthcare and should be rigorously enforced in all healthcare settings.

Studies publish new research about infectious pathogens almost daily.

Not sure if your staff is up to date on all of the new guidelines?

A quick refresher course can protect you, your staff, and the community from spreading disease unnecessarily. Enroll today!