NIOSH: Police Officers at Risk for Exposures to Bloodborne Pathogens

Published January 24, 2018

​An Ohio police department should adopt a comprehensive bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan to help protect officers from needlestick injuries and other potential exposures to bloodborne pathogens, NIOSH urges in a new report published by the agency's Health Hazard Evaluation Program. NIOSH staff reviewed the records of these types of incidents among police officers in a city department at the request of employer representatives from the city’s risk management office. During 2011–2016, 13 needlestick injuries and 37 additional exposure incidents, including spitting incidents, human bites, and contact with blood other than from needlesticks, occurred in the force of approximately 1,000 police officers. Needlestick injuries most commonly occurred while officers were conducting pat-down searches of suspects or searching a suspect’s property or vehicle.

NIOSH also reviewed the city’s and police department’s policies regarding exposures to blood and other potentially infectious materials, and found that the police department had not yet adopted the city’s comprehensive plan for controlling bloodborne pathogens exposures. The police department is not required to implement the requirements of OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard because Ohio does not operate a state OSHA plan; the standard only covers private industry employees and public employees in states operating OSHA-approved state plans. However, NIOSH recommends voluntary compliance with OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard to improve the health and safety of the city’s police officers.

The police department should continue to train officers on safe searching techniques and provide annual training on bloodborne pathogens, methods for controlling occupational exposures, and post-exposure procedures. NIOSH recommended that the department consider providing officers with cut-resistant gloves to using when performing searches and pat-downs.

Further recommendations from NIOSH are available in the HHE report (PDF).