Bloodborne Pathogens in the Workplace: How are They Transmitted?

Bloodborne Pathogens in the Workplace: How are They Transmitted?

Are you at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens in the workplace? Approximately 5.6 million employees are at risk of bloodborne pathogens (BBP) exposure. Employees who encounter bloodborne pathogens face the danger of developing several diseases, such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (1).

Those in high-risk professions must take training seriously as a strategy to reduce risk given the broad spectrum of potential exposure and its impact on those infected. It’s important to understand how you can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens in the workplace and what you can do to stay safe.

What are Bloodborne Pathogens? 

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms in human blood that can cause human disease. Hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are just a few examples of diseases that can be contracted from exposure (4).

Workers across many professions are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Occupations at risk include:

  • First responders
  • Housekeeping personnel in some industries
  • Nurses
  • Other healthcare personnel

Anyone providing first aid has the possibility of encountering bloodborne pathogens. Every employee falling under this category should receive bloodborne pathogens training to understand how to respond safely and reduce exposure if they need to provide first aid.

If you are at risk of exposure in your workplace, you must be aware of it whether you are working with human cells in a lab or cleaning up blood in a building.

How can Bloodborne Pathogens be Transmitted in the Workplace? 

Bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted by ingestion and exposure to blood and specific bodily fluids. The primary route of occupational exposure to BBP at work is when an infected person’s blood enters another person’s bloodstream through an open wound or accidental needle stick (2).

The following are common ways bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted in the workplace (4):

  • Having exposed non-intact skin or openings in the skin. Cuts, scratches, and any other unprotected wounds can transmit bloodborne pathogens. Handling contaminated laundry or bathroom appliances and performing housekeeping tasks can put you at risk.
  • Through contact with contaminated sharps, such as needles or glass, that have penetrated the skin. These can occur in occupations requiring you to use blades or knives. It could also occur if you are taking blood for a lab test.
  • Bodily mucous membranes can allow the spread of bloodborne pathogens through the mouth, nose, and eyes. For example, drops of infected blood enter the mouth, nose, or eyes. This can happen when treating a lesion or applying pressure to reduce bleeding, placing professionals in the health industry at serious risk.

How to Stay Protected 

Understanding the risks posed by bloodborne pathogens and the precautions you can take to avoid exposure is essential.

Employee bloodborne pathogens safety is a shared responsibility by both the employer and the employees. As an employer, you must educate your workers with training that helps them recognize the dangers of bloodborne pathogens, how to stay protected and what action to take if exposure occurs.

Follow these recommendations as they apply to your situation and workplace to avoid potential bloodborne pathogens transmission (5):

  • Handle all blood and body fluid spillage as infectious.
  • Treat all trash as if it contains sharps and/or infectious materials.
  • Place all potentially infectious items and contaminated materials in closeable containers or bags. The bags must be labeled with a biohazard label and/or color-coded, commonly in red.
  • Avoid direct or indirect contact with any blood and body fluids.
  • Always wear disposable gloves when administering first aid.
  • If your workplace exposure control plan or the situation calls for additional layers of protection, wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) such as eye protection, shoe covers, face shields, gowns, and breathing barriers to protect you from bloodborne infections.
  • Sharps should be disposed of right away after use in designated sharps containers. Sharps are typically used needles but can also be razors, utility knives, scalpels, shears, or any contaminated broken glass.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when administering first aid or afterward.
  • Discard the disposable gloves immediately in the appropriate container after removing them without touching the contaminated section of the gloves.
  • Properly wash your hands and any other areas immediately after providing care.


Housekeeping is critical when dealing with bloodborne pathogens. It describes procedures for sanitizing and disinfecting contaminated surfaces and for getting rid of bodily fluids and blood. A suitable disinfection solution must be applied during every decontamination process, such as one part bleach to ten parts water. After exposure to blood or body fluids, it’s critical to disinfect and leave all items, PPE, work surfaces, and flooring spotless.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employers should ensure PPE is easily accessible and available to their staff to encourage them to utilize it. Employees are less likely to wear PPE when not easily accessible, which puts them at a higher risk of contracting bloodborne pathogens through blood and other bodily fluids.

Exposure Control Plan

Every company that has an employee with occupational exposure [to blood or other potentially infectious materials] is required to prepare a written exposure control plan to prevent or reduce employee exposure, under OSHA Standard 1910.1030(c)(1)(i) (6).

After applying the recommendations mentioned above, make sure to follow any further instructions specified in your employer’s exposure control plan.

What Should I do if Exposed? 

Regardless of how carefully you try to stay protected, there is always the possibility you may be exposed to blood or body fluids during an urgent emergency.

If you experience exposure, apply the following aftercare precautions (3):

  1. After washing with soap and water, rinse the exposed region of your body with warm water. Strongly cleanse every area. Cleansing the skin with an abrasive movement of brushing eliminates contaminants.
  2. If there is an open wound, squeeze it lightly to make it bleed, then wash it with soap and water.
  3. Inform your supervisor who will initiate the Exposure Incident procedures outlined in the Exposure Control Plan.
  4. After the exposure incidence, seek immediate medical attention.
  5. A physician will advise you on the possibility of contracting HIV or HBV and any additional follow-up care that might be required.
  6. Follow any further instructions specified in your employer’s exposure control plan.

All staff should exercise extreme caution when dealing with dangerous workplace bloodborne pathogens.

For more information on bloodborne pathogens transmission, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website or sign up for our Bloodborne Pathogens Training course.

  1. Bloodborne pathogens – hazard recognition | occupational safety and health administration. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from
  2. Bloodborne pathogens – occupational safety and health administration. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from
  3. Protecting yourself from bloodborne pathogens. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from
  4. United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from
  5. United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from
  6. United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from