At the end of 2020, 37.6 million people around the globe were living with HIV.

HIV is only one of the bloodborne pathogens to be aware of. Other bloodborne pathogens include Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. If exposed to these pathogens, you’re at risk for serious illness or death. 

While this is obviously frightening, with proper education, bloodborne pathogens training, and resources, we can lower the spread. There are dangers you may not be aware of. 

One of these dangers is the spread of bloodborne pathogens in retail settings. Whether you’re an employee or customer, it’s crucial you’re aware of your risks. Keep reading below for more information. 

What are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are viruses and bacteria found in the blood and other bodily fluids that can cause disease. They can be spread through direct or indirect contact with infected blood and fluids or even through droplet transmission.

Individuals with a higher risk of being exposed to these pathogens include healthcare workers, first responders, and janitorial staff in certain settings. They can also be spread in places that use needles, such as tattoo and piercing parlors. 

Believe it or not, bloodborne pathogens may spread in retail settings. 

How Can They Spread in Retail Settings?

We know it sounds like a far stretch that there’s the chance of spreading bloodborne pathogens in retail settings, but it’s possible. 

For example, someone infected may sneeze and spray droplets in the air. Droplet transmission then occurs by someone else inhaling the air containing the droplets. 

If you’re an employee in a retail setting, you may be taking the trash out each night. Someone with a bloodborne pathogen may have discarded a band-aid or tissue with blood droplets on it. If you accidentally touch it with a cut on your hand, you’ve been exposed.

While the chances of transmission in a retail shop are low, it’s not 0 percent. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Conditions Needed for Transmission

Keeping this all in mind, there are 4 conditions that must be met in order for pathogen transmission to occur. 

First, there must be a pathogen present. Second, there needs to be enough of this particular pathogen present to cause infection. 

There then needs to be a person susceptible to the pathogen. Lastly, the pathogen must enter through an entry site. 

Entry sites for bloodborne pathogens include the mouth, eyes, pierced skin, and other mucous membranes. It can also be transmitted through any part of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. 

How Can Customers Protect Themselves?

There are ways you can protect yourself as a customer when entering a retail setting.

The biggest piece of advice is to touch as little as possible. Don’t touch used napkins or tissues, and stay away from dirty bandaids and other debris on the floor. Alert an employee there’s trash on the floor if you see any. 

If you have small children with you, make sure they don’t touch any garbage either. We know curiosity often strikes kids so keep them close. 

It’s a great idea to keep travel-size packs of disinfectant wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer with you while shopping. Some people even find it comforting to wear latex gloves as they push a shopping cart. 

We know it’s not predictable, but if someone is starting to cough or sneeze, politely move away from that individual. It’s likely just a tickle in the throat, but it’s best to be careful.

What Can Employees Do to Lower the Spread?

Employees play a crucial role in lowering the spread of bloodborne pathogens. If you’re employed in a retail store, chat with your manager about how your team can better protect themselves and the customers. 

Handle trash with care. Wear gloves if you need to pick up debris off the floor, and properly dispose of anything with blood on it. This is especially true if you’re disposing of women’s products from the restroom. 

Encourage customers to wear masks if they’re sick, even if it’s a cold. If you see someone sneeze or cough, offer them hand sanitizer. Disinfect any surfaces they may have sneezed on. 

Most importantly, chat with your managers about the importance of educating staff on the risks of bloodborne pathogens. Inquire about setting up employee-wide bloodborne pathogens training. 

What Is Bloodborne Pathogens Training?

Bloodborne pathogens training is vital. Even though this type of training may not be necessarily required for many employees outside healthcare settings, everyone should urge their workplace to participate. 

In this training, you’ll learn about various types of pathogens and how they’re typically spread. A successful training course will also present and sum up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines for slowing the spread.

During training, your workplace will also learn about and develop an exposure plan. This plan covers what specific tasks may present risks, precaution measures, procedures for Hepatitis B vaccinations, and procedures on evaluating an incident. 

All members of management should clearly outline procedures for exposure control. These procedures may include requiring a Hep B vaccination for all employees, creating handwashing procedures, and showing how to properly clean up blood or dirty trash. 

If there is an accident or possible exposure, all employees should know immediately what to do after this training. 

What is Bloodborne Pathogens Certification? 

You might be now thinking, “Wait. There’s a certification for this? What is bloodborne pathogens certification?” It’s exactly what it sounds like!

This type of certification proves you have an in-depth knowledge of bloodborne pathogens, how to lower chances of exposure, and how to respond to possible exposure. It increases the safety of your store. 

Certificates can be displayed somewhere in your store to give all customers peace of mind. Management should ensure all new staff completes their certification and that exposure plans are annually updated. 

Steps Management Should Be Taking

Self-responsibility and integrity are crucial when creating and maintaining a safe retail environment. Management teams should be regularly monitoring employees to guarantee all procedures are being carefully followed. 

If you hold a higher position at any retail shop, thoroughly read and understand your company’s exposure plan. Is there not one? Immediately talk to the owner or corporate.

You should also be aware of what resources your business provides to employees who have had possible exposure. Businesses should cover the cost of medical evaluations and follow-ups.

Does your workplace require a Hepatitis B vaccination? Create resources on where to receive the vaccine to give to your employees. 

Personal protective equipment needs to be carefully stored in a reachable location within the shop. Proper PPE available includes gloves, masks, and eye protection. There also needs to be a large supply of disinfectants and wipes.

Training Janitorial Staff

Does your shop hire a janitorial staff for cleaning? It’s imperative all janitorial staff have received proper bloodborne pathogens training. 

Check with the staff to guarantee they know where all PPE is located, and review possible risk areas with them. If you noticed several sick customers throughout the day, alert the janitorial staff. They’ll want to take extra caution. 

If your company hires a janitorial staff, it’s important employees throughout the day follow procedures because now there are even more people included in the mix!

Report Unsafe Conditions

Have you noticed your shop is not following exposure plans and precaution procedures? Report unsafe conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

Provide details and any proof you might have to the OSHA so they are able to take proper action. You may feel like you’re tattling, but you’re saving people’s lives!

You may also reach out to someone at the corporate level to express your concerns. The lack of care may very well be due to an irresponsible manager. Watch out for yourself. 

What Do I Do if I Have HIV or Another Bloodborne Pathogen?

It’s scary knowing you’ve been exposed to a bloodborne pathogen. Get tested immediately.

If you’ve been exposed to HIV or another pathogen recently, let your doctor know. There are special tests that are able to detect recent exposures. 

Guarantee you receive and understand your results and chat with healthcare staff if you have any questions. If you tested positive, seek medical help as soon as possible for treatment and proper management. Keep in mind that in the early stages of HIV infection, you’re at higher risk of infecting others. 

Keep up with any prescriptions your doctor gives you, and seek the support you need. The experience may feel isolating so it’s crucial you address your physical and emotional health.

Addressing the Risk of Bloodborne Pathogens in a Retail Setting 

Bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV or Hepatitis B, are dangerous. It’s important for every business to have proper training and precautions put into place to lower the spread. Even retail businesses should be doing their part. 

Bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted directly, indirectly, or through droplets in the air. All employees should receive bloodborne pathogens training and be given the proper resources if exposed.