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What Is An Exposure Incident?
Definition, Examples & Reporting

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Occupational exposure can occur to anyone who is exposed to potentially infectious materials. You cut yourself unintentionally with a sharp blade that a health care worker used on a patient, or maybe even as a worker, you were exposed to other potentially infectious material.

Any of these circumstances constitutes an exposure incident.

As a personal injury attorney, I have worked on several cases involving accidental exposure incidents, and here is what you need to know.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Any exposure incident is handled as if the equipment had come into contact with a dangerous pathogen, regardless of the circumstances.
  • The medical care of the exposed person can be accelerated with a written exposure incident plan that is reviewed annually.
  • Before exposure, the source person's identity and infectious status must be known to collect the source patient's blood for testing at an authorized laboratory.

Definition of Exposure Incident

A surgeon's tools on a tableAn exposure incident occurs when blood or other potentially contagious material comes into contact with the eye, mouth, mucous membranes, or even non-intact skin [1]

Any liquid, including saliva, semen, blood, or phlegm that has the potential to carry viruses or potentially harmful material qualifies as potentially infectious material. 

Any exposure incident should be handled as though the equipment had come into contact with a harmful pathogen, even if the patient was initially sterile and no disease had been identified.

Although there are many different ways that people can be exposed to various materials, this lesson will focus on the dangers of bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B, C, and HIV viruses. 

Examples of Exposure Incidents

Examples of employee exposure incidents include:

  • Parenteral contact with a contaminated item such as narrow needles
  • splashing or splattering on the face's mucous membranes
  • Any other incident involving contact with non-intact skin, blood, or potentially infectious materials (cuts, scratches, chapped skin, etc.) [2].

Steps to Follow After an Exposure Incident

A doctor treating a child's wounds

Several different environments can lead to an exposure incident. When administering vaccinations, it may occur in a medical facility. As previously mentioned, it can take place during surgery. 

It can also happen in a dental office or even a tattoo parlor. The reporter should develop a plan specifically for each setting since exposure incidents can occur in various contexts.

  1. Immediately tend to the exposure site's medical needs.
  • Use soap and water to sanitize and clean cuts and skin.
  • Water-flush the mucous membrane.
  • Never use the instrument on the patient.
  • The employee must immediately report the incident to the supervisor/employer.
  1. Establish the risk related to exposure.
  • Identify a variety of fluids (e.g., blood, visibly bloody fluid, or other potentially infectious fluid or tissue).
  • Identify the exposure type (e.g., percutaneous injury, other mucous membrane or non-intact skin exposure, or bites resulting in blood exposure).
  1. Examine the source of exposure.
  • Utilize the information at hand to determine the infection risk.
  • It is necessary to enquire about the HBV, HCV, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) status of the source individuals (patients). If not known, inquire if they agree to be tested.
  1. The exposed employee is promptly referred to a health care provider who will conduct the testing, medical examination, prophylaxis, and counseling procedures.
  • Health care must provide some suggested interventions that must begin right away in order to be effective.
  • The exposed employee has the right to reject any examination, laboratory tests, or recommendation by a health care physician. This denial has documentation.
  1. The employer is required to send the following information to the health care provider along with the exposed employee:
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Standard copy.
  • A description of the tasks performed by the exposed employee about the exposure incident. 
  • Exposure to Accidental Bodily Fluid Form
  • Documentation of the exposure route(s) and environmental conditions that led to the exposure (Form for Accidental Body Fluid Exposure)
  • All medical records are important to the employee's proper care, such as proof of HBV vaccination and, if known, the source person's HBV/HCV/HIV status.
  1. The health care professional (HCP) will:
  • Analyze the incident of exposure and conduct a confidential medical evaluation.
  • Set up employee and source individual testing (if the status is not already known).
  • Inform the employee of all test results.
  • Offer post-exposure prophylaxis and counseling.
  • Assess the reported illnesses.
  • Send your employer a written opinion, for example (Whether the Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended and whether it was administered).

A written exposure incident plan reviewed annually can help hasten the exposed person's medical care. 

Remember that time is important because some post-exposure medications work best when taken shortly after the exposure rather than days later. Before you or anyone in your practice has an exposure incident, make sure to find a healthcare facility nearby.

How To Report An Exposure Incident?

A person reporting something to another personTo report an exposure incident, one must report the incident to their supervisor. Early reporting is essential for starting an immediate intervention to address any potential worker infection.

Employers must report any exposure to HBV or HIV and follow up with a follow-up that includes determining the source's HBV and HIV infectivity status. The employer must also evaluate the exposure incident's circumstances promptly.

The source individual's identity and infectious status must be known before exposure. The employer must test the individual's blood if state or local law allows testing without the source's consent. 

The exposed worker has the right to know about the results of these tests, and the worker must be informed of the local laws and regulations.

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What is OSHA?

OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They are used in the event of an exposure incident and provide guidelines known as the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard; they are also a big part of the public health service recommendations. 

For both employees in the private sector and those working for the government, OSHA is the federal organization in charge of ensuring safe and healthy working conditions. They aim to help working people by offering assistance, education, community outreach, and training.

"When an exposure incident occurs, immediate action must be taken to expedite medical treatment for the exposed employee and to assure compliance with the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard."
- Leslie Canham, Consultant Specializing in Infection Control

OSHA is responsible for establishing regulations for a variety of settings, including construction sites, nuclear power plants, and locations where potentially dangerous equipment or materials are present. 

Even though this lesson focuses on exposure incidents with blood-born pathogens, OSHA is also in charge of doing so for a wide range of other settings.

The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard includes recordkeeping obligations for businesses, including confidential medical records for workers who had occupational exposures, records of the training, and a sharps injury log that meticulously details each sharps injury.


What must an employee do if an exposure incident occurs?

When an exposure incident occurs, an employee must immediately report the incident to the responsible supervisor or manager.

What are the three things to be included in an exposure incident report?

The three things to be included in an exposure incident report are the exposure's time, place, and context. A list of everyone involved, including the exposed person, the names of the people who provided first aid, and, if available, the name of the source person.

What is the first action in the event of an exposure incident?

The first action in the event of an exposure incident is to make sure that the exposed person is aware of the potential dangers of an exposure incident. 

Were You A Victim of An Exposure Incident?

Suppose you were a victim of an exposure incident. In that case, you might contact an attorney about filing a lawsuit for compensation for damages suffered from exposure to substances that caused an exposure incident. 

At Schmidt & Clark, LLP we have a team of exposure law experts who can assist you if you are a victim of an exposure incident. They are also available for a free consultation session whenever you want to discuss the situation in more detail.