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Why Tattoo Artists Need Bloodborne Pathogen Certification

September 23, 2016 | Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC | Comments

If you're a tattoo or body modification artist, you most likely need bloodborne pathogen training, testing, and certification. People working in this area are often exposed to blood as a daily part of the job—and that puts them at risk for exposure to Hepatitis B and C, HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, and other bacteria and viruses carried in the blood. If you work as a tattoo artist or piercer, you need to know how to protect yourself—as well as your customers.

Image of a tattoo artist doing tattoo work

The requirement is a matter of federal law. The training requirements for OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030 were revised on November 6, 2000 when the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was introduced to better regulate occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Failure to comply is severe—the fines can be upwards of $70,000.

Generally, the regulation applies to all employers whose workers might be exposed to bloodborne pathogens as part of their job. This includes traditional tattoo artists, cover-up tattoo artists, and permanent makeup artists. It also applies to phlebotomists, nurses, and others in the medical industry.

Some parts of the regulations are relevant only to those in the healthcare field, but tattoo parlors are required to develop and implement exposure control plans that outline how employees will be protected. The plan generally includes personal protective clothing and equipment, work practices that reduce the risk of exposure, employee training, vaccinations, and enforcement methods.

In 25 states and two territories, states operate their own plans that are at least as effective as OSHA standards. In other states, the federal OSHA law is in effect. This means that specifics may vary from state to state. However, usually either your employer or a qualified outside provider may deliver the training. Employers may also bring in outside trainers who meet the law's instructor qualification requirements.

While the specifics vary by state, a bloodborne pathogen training program should look at the following questions in detail:

What are bloodborne pathogens? The term “bloodborne pathogens” refers to any infectious micro-organism found in human blood or in other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). The big ones include Hepatitis B and C and HIV / AIDS, but there are many others—including the Ebola virus and other viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers.

How are bloodborne pathogens transmitted? Bloodborne pathogens are passed on through infected human blood, as well as other bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions; cerebrospinal fluid; synovial fluid, or fluid between the joints; pleural fluid, or fluid around the lungs; peritoneal and amniotic fluid, or saliva.

While there are many ways bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted—from sexual contact to the birth process—tattoo artists are generally most at risk of exposure from incidents such as an accidental puncture from a contaminated needle. It’s also possible to pass along a bloodborne pathogen when mucus membranes or broken or damaged skin comes into contact with body fluids that have been infected.

Tattoo gun

While skin is a very effective barrier when it’s unbroken, it’s possible to expose yourself to a bloodborne pathogen through cuts and abrasions, open sores, acne, or even blisters and sunburns. It’s also possible to pass along an infection if your eyes, nose, or mouth are exposed to contaminated blood or fluids.

How can infection from bloodborne pathogens be prevented? Wearing protective coverings and disposable gloves, thoroughly washing the hands and other exposed areas as necessary, and disposing any contaminated materials in biohazard bags are all part of the process. Often, tattoo parlors set their own guidelines that are specially tailored to their work environment, and your employer may have specific steps for you to follow over and above what is discussed in a general training course.

How can I prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens? It's crucial to use a freshly-made disinfectant solution to clean equipment and work surfaces that may have come into contact with infected bodily fluids. The solution should consist of about 1.5 cups of liquid chlorine bleach to a gallon of water, or one part bleach to nine parts water. Scrub boots, shoes, belts, and other leather goods with hot water and a stiff brush. Wash and dry clothes that may have been exposed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

What do I do if I have been exposed to infected blood? If you are exposed to blood or bodily fluids that may be infected, first wash the area out with warm water, then scrub vigorously with more water and soap to remove contaminants on the skin. If you have an open wound that was exposed, squeeze it slightly to stimulate blood flow and then wash it. Immediately notify your supervisor and seek emergency medical treatment.

What personal protective equipment should I wear? Tattoo artists and others who are reasonably likely to come into contact with blood and bodily fluids should wear a clean, protective layer of clothing at all times. Masks should be worn along with eye protection such as goggles, face shields or solid side shields to protect against spray or droplets of blood or other fluids. During the piercing or tattooing process, disposable gloves should be worn—and changed whenever the glove is torn or the process of tattooing or piercing is interrupted.

How do I handle and dispose of contaminated materials? All contaminated materials, such as used disposable gloves, needles, clothing, and bandages, should be disposed of using gloves—never touched directly. The material should be placed in a container that is easily closable and will prevent leaks during transport or handling. The container should be labeled according to legal requirements, and firmly closed prior to removal.

Tattoo artist at work giving an arm tattoo

If you work as a tattoo or body modification artist, you will need to undergo bloodborne pathogen training online or in person in compliance with the law, pass a test, and keep that training updated on a regular basis depending on the law in your state—often yearly. Your employer should be able to tell you more about the regulations applicable in your area and what you'll need to do on the job to comply. With the right training and certification, you’ll have the skills and training to keep yourselves and your clients safe from exposure to bloodborne illnesses.


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