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Dental office employees face risk of bloodborne illness

Workers in Louisiana dental offices may be at risk of bloodborne illnesses. A survey conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention shows that a significant number of private dental offices may not be taking necessary steps to control exposure to pathogens.

In the survey, 28 percent of the respondents said that they have not created a written control plan for exposure to bloodborne pathogens specific to their dental practice. This control plan is a requirement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of those, half said that they had no plans to develop such a document in the coming year.

Of the clinics who did have an exposure control plan, 24 percent had not reviewed it in the past year. Bloodborne illness is of particular concern in dental offices. The OSHA standard is intended to protect health care workers from diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can be transmitted through direct contact with blood. Health workers frequently can come in contact with blood and other bodily fluids during dental procedures and face a risk of harm.

More than 1,000 people participated in the study, responding to questions about OSHA requirements to control exposure. In addition to concerns about the number of offices without a bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan, many offices did not take other steps that could help protect workers. For example, 65 percent did not use needles with sharps injury prevention features, and 15 percent of clinics did not offer hepatitis B vaccines to workers.

Workers' compensation benefits can cover bloodborne illnesses due to pathogen exposure just as they can on-the-job injuries. People who have become ill due to their workplace environment may want to meet with an attorney to see what the procedure is for filing a claim.

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