Birth of a Standard

ISEA is developing an eye and face protection standard for biological hazards.

Ten of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the United States are related to health care. If predictions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are correct, health care will generate 3.2 million new jobs by 2018, more than any other industry. As the health care workforce expands, more workers will potentially be exposed to occupational risks associated with the industry, including biological hazards.

Biohazards are often liquid- and viral-based agents, such as bloodborne pathogens (e.g., HIV and hepatitis B), viruses, and infectious diseases that can be transmitted through the nose, mouth, and mucus membranes of the eye. In January 2011, bloodborne pathogens was the most-accessed general industry standard on OSHA's website. Additionally, rates of occupational injury to health care workers have risen during the past decade, and in 2008, the incidence of occupational injury and illnesses in hospitals was higher than the average for private industry overall.

Currently, there are no eye and face protection standards specific to protecting workers from biohazards. OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard for PPE (1910.1030(d)(3)(i)) requires employers to provide PPE to workers if there is exposure to bloodborne pathogens, but there is not a standard that certifies what PPE will provide eye and face protection against specific biohazards.

J.P. Sankpill, president and CEO of Lenexa, Kan.-based U.S. Safety, said the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2003 eye and face protection standard addresses impact, particulate, chemical, and radiation hazards but does not specifically address bloodborne pathogens and other biological hazards. "There hasn't been a standard to address hazards in health care. They default it to the Z87 standard, which was never designed to address hazards unique to health care," Sankpill said.

"Biological hazards tend not to be impact hazards. There's not the threat of a flying object," noted Cristine Fargo, director of Member and Technical Services for the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA). "Biohazard PPE should protect workers' eyes and faces from blood spraying, excrements, splashes, excretions, and other infectious materials. These include goggles, masks, and faceshields."

Identifying a Need
About 18 months ago, ISEA began developing a biohazard eye and face protection standard. "ISEA has a standards policy committee that identifies gaps where standards don't exist," Fargo said. "In conjunction with identifying the gap, at the same time, H1N1 was becoming a popular discussion, mostly from the respiratory protection side, but not from other modes of contact, like eye and skin contact.

"In terms of PPE, there is a wealth of knowledge with respect to protective apparel, gloves, and respiratory protection, but not so much on eye and face protection. The eye and mucus membranes are portals for viruses to get into your system, and there's just not a way to evaluate that right now," she said.

After identifying the need for a standard, ISEA called for companies, government agencies, associations, and individuals who use or purchase eye and face PPE to apply for membership to a standards committee.

The stakeholder group for this particular PPE category includes health care workers, EMTs, first aid providers, maintenance crews that deal with contaminated waste or spills, medical device manufacturers, laboratories, and universities. "We've identified stakeholder groups for this particular product area, which would be infectious control organizations like APIC, health nurses, and NFPA," Fargo said. "On the government side, we do partner with OSHA and NIOSH."

After ISEA fills the positions on the committee, the standard will be developed internally by eye and face product groups.

Building Blocks
Sankpill, who is a member of the eye and face product committee, said the group will need to define what the scope of the standard is going to be and to identify the specific hazards the standard will cover.

"Part of what defines a biohazard remains to be seen," he said. "Part of the identifying process will be to bring enough people to the table to gather information. We want to ask people what kind of situations they are in and what their concerns are while on the job."

Sankpill said he met with workers from Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., and asked them what their thoughts and concerns were for eye and face PPE. "They reiterated what we've heard from others -- that they've basically been left to their own devices to find a solution," Sankpill said. "They said a biohazard PPE standard would make their jobs easier."

After defining the range of biological hazards, the first thing the group will have to do is look at all of the products on the market and identify where they're being used and what kind of marketing claims are being made about them, and then find out where other information already exists. "With there being nothing out there, there's little assurance that you're getting the protection that you need from all hazards that your work environment has," said Fargo. "This standard will provide a marking scheme so the user can identify products as meeting the standard."

During the product testing phase, the group will be required to:

  • Define the evaluation tools
  • Identify test methods that help to evaluate the products
  • Address the hazards unique to the health care environment

"For example, if there's a splash hazard, that means there's a coverage consideration, so you want to make sure the portals of the eyes, the nose, and the mouth are being covered by this product so you're preventing passages from the hazard getting into your system," Fargo said.

Also during the testing process, members will look at whether a product can be disinfected, which determines whether it can be reusable. "The ability for products to be disinfected is important," Sankpill said. "That ability may affect the design of a product. If something had grooves or crevices, it might be harder to disinfect."

He said the testing process may show that plastic is an ideal material for PPE because it can withstand gamma radiation, which kills bacteria and viruses present on the surface of an object. He added that some plastics have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, as well. "We have to give thought to what a material can hold up to," Sankpill said.

Down the Road
Fargo said ISEA would like to have the standard in the public venue for review by the beginning of 2012. "The final consensus at the end of the day when the standard will get published will go through some public vetting," Fargo said. "For any standard to be viable, you're going to have to have acceptance from the end user community."

Sankpill said he hopes the standard will help employers identify the products they need and know how to keep their workers safe. "At best, we want the standard to be a tool for those workers who are exposed to biological hazards to have an understanding that there are products out there that are going to help protect them," he said.

Once the standard is in place, employers can look for products that are manufactured and labeled with the correct ANSI/ISEA marking scheme. "Know what you're buying and know that the product has been evaluated and that it meets some kind of pass/fail criteria. We hope the standard gives workers a level of confidence," Fargo said.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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