Artists can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, during the set-up, procedure, break down, and clean-up stages. These exposures can occur through needlesticks, contact with dried blood on equipment or surfaces, or blood splashes in the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Keeping a clean shop and using safe work practices, ensures a safe and professional atmosphere for artists and clients.
Universal Precautions – which some tattoo artists refer to as a “sterile chain of events” – is a set of precautionary steps defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent the spread of disease. Tattoo artists are required by law to follow Universal Precautions for the safety of themselves and their clients. Any artist found not following this sterile chain of events can have their licensing and/or certification revoked. Any studio found not following the guidelines can be shut down. The basics include things like using gloves and other barriers on anything the artist comes in contact with, disinfecting all surfaces and general cross-contamination prevention. When these things are followed, the chances of being exposed to staph infection of any kind are very minimal.
Exposures to bloodborne pathogens can happen by getting stuck with a used needle or getting cut by a sharp instrument that has blood on it.
Certain practices can reduce needlesticks and other sharps injuries.
In the next few tabs, we will provide some additional information to prevent exposures to blood in the body art industry.
Disposable piercing needles, tattoo needles, and razors must be discarded into a sharps disposal container. Body artists must throw away used or contaminated sharps into a sharps disposal container. It is safer to put disposable razors into a sharps disposal container rather than the trash. This will protect the person changing or handling the trash bag from getting cut with a used razor. Sharps disposal containers must be kept in a place that is near a work area so artists can quickly and safely dispose of used sharps.
If sharps disposal containers become full, they must be replaced so the containers do not spill over. An artist could get a needlestick if he or she throws away a sharp item into a full container. It is a good idea to replace sharps disposal containers when they are 2/3 full.
Sharps disposal containers must be closeable, puncture resistant, leak-proof, and labeled. These features allow for safe disposal in a container that is familiar to all workers.
When handling or disposing a used sharp, tattooists and piercers should use a tool instead of their fingers to pick up or hold the sharp. This may reduce needlesticks.
Though OSHA regulations do not generally require a body artist to keep an injury log, a record of cuts from sharps can increase awareness of sharps-related injuries. A Sharps Incidence Log lets artists know how often sharps-related injuries happen and under what conditions.
The Sharps Injury Log must include at least:
Recording needlesticks and cuts from sharps also allow artists to learn from their mistakes and others' mistakes to help reduce exposures.
As required by OSHA, an exposure control plan is written by a shop owner and describes the steps an employer will take to minimize employee exposure to blood. The details included in an exposure control plan should be specific to each shop.
Click on the link here for a Model Exposure Control Plan.
Instead of disposing of a single-use sharp device into a regulated sharps container immediately upon completion of the tattoo procedure, it is not uncommon for many tattoo artists to re-sterilize the entire device in order to break off the needle configuration. Then they could re-use the bar itself. The justification for this practice is generally related to lower cost. However, this procedure requires the "breaking, bending, or shearing" of a sharp, which is expressly prohibited by OSHA.
So, how does the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (1910.1030) apply to this practice?
The scope and application of the standard is “dependent on reasonably anticipated occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).” Since tattooing and piercing generate blood, workers in this industry would fall under the scope of the standard.
Proper implementation of a bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan, infection control procedures, and standard precautions protect not only workers from potential exposure, but clients, as well.
The standard requires the use of engineering and work practice controls to eliminate or minimize employee exposure to blood and OPIM. Where occupational exposure remains after the institution of these controls, personal protective equipment must also be used.
Understandably, engineering controls for tattoo needles may not be commercially available, therefore the use of proper and safe work practices carries a higher level of importance. Safe work practices would include the immediate disposal of contaminated needles into an appropriate regulated waste container, such as the Sharps Disposable Container. Bending, recapping, breaking, and/or shearing contaminated needles requires additional manual manipulation, which poses a greater risk of injury. If safer needle devices do become available, an employer must evaluate, select, and implement appropriate devices, based on employee feedback.
Therefore, it is OSHA's position that in the tattooing and piercing industry, proper work practices must be followed, including the immediate disposal and proper containerization of single-use contaminated needles.
An employer must also ensure the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, gowns) depending on the types of exposures that may be anticipated (e.g., splashes, splatters, drips). Again, employees with occupational exposure to blood must receive full coverage of the standard, including, but not limited to:
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