Bloodborne pathogens and TASER darts

Over the last several weeks while leading various OSHA 30-hour classes, an unexpected issue came up inside the bloodborne pathogens piece. We all know that bloodborne pathogens are a major issue for healthcare workers, right? All sorts of creative exposure routes and mechanisms not limited to the estimated 800,000 needle-sticks each year.

Going down the list of occupations at high risk for exposure, we quickly get to law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics. Not really any surprises there, as these folks are face-to-face (literally) with BBP exposure scenarios limited only by one’s imagination (decomped bodies, bites, projectile vomiting, personal assaults, being stabbed at with needles, spit at… the list goes on).

But one that really never occurred to me was related to the use of TASERS.

According to the TASER International website, these things “have been used on humans 2 million times” and are “safer than high school sports.” Accurate or not, I don’t know, but what came up in class was pulling out those two million darts in the field and how you do that safely.

A few of my students were former law enforcement and medical first responders, and they described to me their experiences. The tales I heard included wire-pliers, multi-tools or scalpels and responders being stuck with removed darts. Some police departments avoid the BBP issue by forbidding their officers to remove darts, leaving it to the responding paramedics, EMTs or ambulance personnel.

I suppose that’s an example of an effective work practice (for the officers anyway), but it leaves the medical responders and those departments who do allow dart removal by officers faced with avoiding the TASER dart equivalent of a needle-stick and the related BBP issues.

Law enforcement (SIC 9221) is covered by the general industry standards, and OSHA requires in the BBP standard that we should identify and use appropriate engineering controls and work practices ahead of PPE, right?

So I’m looking for feedback on how you keep your people safe while doing this. Law enforcement, do you allow your officers to pull darts? How do you report “dart-sticks?” I’d love to hear your stories and work practices. I’m also looking for any technology solutions that might be out there. Is there such a thing as a “dart puller?” If so, have you used it and does it work?

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