Bill protects workers from blood diseases

by Sequim Gazette staff

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation May 3 giving certain categories of workers the right to request a test for all blood-borne pathogens if pricked by a needle on the job.


First responders, health care workers and law enforcement officers all face the possibility of an accidental needle stick. If the needle involved is “dirty” — that is, used — the person who is accidentally pricked could be exposed to a number of potentially deadly blood-borne pathogens, said Jennifer Waldref, communications specialist with the Democratic Caucus, in a news release.


Waldref said until the law was passed last Tuesday workers only had the right to request that the patient or owner of the needle be tested for the HIV virus. Now they can request a test for all blood-borne pathogens, she said.


State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who sponsored the legislation, said it is about updating an older statute to reflect today’s public health hazards.


“The original bill was passed during the heightened AIDS awareness of the 1980s but the reality is a cop or nurse is much more likely to be exposed to Hepatitis C than HIV,” Van De Wege said. “The new law means these people can be informed of their exposure so they can quickly begin proper treatment.”

The idea for updating the law was brought to Van De Wege by constituents regularly exposed to blood-borne pathogens on the job, including firefighters and emergency room personnel from the Olympic Peninsula, Waldref said.


Testing for blood-borne pathogens is performed on the individual whose blood already may be on the needle. If the individual refuses the test, a court still can order it, she said.


Van De Wege, who is also a firefighter and first responder with Clallam County Fire District 3, said the bill will provide greater peace of mind for people who regularly put themselves at risk to protect public health or safety.


“This doesn’t stop needle sticks from happening,” he said, “but it means that when they do happen, these workers don’t have to live with the fear of not knowing. It also means they can take steps to protect their family members from exposure.”


The bill is House Bill 1454. Representatives from health care, law enforcement and firefighter unions took part in last week’s bill signing ceremony in Olympia.


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