Splashes & Sharps: Occupational Exposures in the Health Care Setting

Many risky, splash-creating activities are conducted without the proper PPE because there is a lower perceived risk.

 When it comes to health care occupational risks, slips, trips, and falls are often the first to come to mind. Sharps also make the top of the list, but what is often overlooked is the cousin to sharps: splashes. Also known as mucocutaneous blood exposures, splashes are a notable risk for health care workers. Splashes—from routine activities such as cutting catheter bags, cleaning bedpans, and emptying suction cups—can land on a caregiver, where it can transfer a pathogen through the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 385,000 health care works in hospitals suffer sharps-related injuries. 1 By comparison, a study led by Doebbeling, et al. at the Veterans Administration found that in the previous three months, roughly 38 percent of all RNs had experienced a splash. Making the risk even more serious, they found that more than a quarter of these splashes went unreported. 2

Splashes, like sharps, can present serious risks to health care employees. This is because they can cause occupational-related infections, ranging from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to hepatitis B virus (HBV) to hepatitis C virus (HCV).3. Occupational exposures such as splashes can lead to lost work days, financial burden, and physical impairment. They also can take an emotional toll on those exposed.

*PPE = Personal protective equipment