Bloodborne pathogens (BBP) training teaches you how to protect yourself and your clients from life-threatening diseases that are transmitted through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.
Because tattoo artists deal directly with blood, BBP training is part of the tattoo licensing process. Without it, you can't legally tattoo in most states.
Luckily, BBP training is easy to access and very straightforward. This article will act as a quick overview so that you are prepared to head into training and come out an expert on infections - and how to prevent them.
If you want to have a career in tattooing without giving anyone (including yourself) AIDS, then this will be one of the most important articles you read this year.
What are Bloodborne Pathogens?
Bloodborne pathogens are viruses and bacteria that cause disease. They spread when a person comes in contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. Microorganisms can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, cuts on the hands, needlesticks, etc.
The most dangerous bloodborne pathogens include:
Both forms of hepatitis can cause life-threatening liver damage. HIV attacks the immune system, making it hard for the body to fight off other diseases. While medication is available to help manage the symptoms for each, only hepatitis C can be completely cured (and only if caught early enough).
For tattoo artists, the biggest risk is a needlestick injury. This occurs when the needle you are using to tattoo another person accidentally sticks you as well.
If you don’t know the right protocols, you are putting not only your career at risk, but your life.
How to Prevent Bloodborne Pathogens from Spreading in a Tattoo Shop
The best way to prevent infection is to follow OSHA’s official approach to infection control. These are usually called “Universal Precautions.”
In simpler words: pretend that everything in your tattooing and cleaning station has AIDS on it. Even if you’re sure that it doesn’t. This prevents accidents and allows you to form habits that protect you when you are faced with a client who has the potential to infect you and others.
What PPE tattoo artists wear might vary. Some tattoo artists wear face masks and eye protection. However all tattoo artists must wear gloves.
Additionally, everything in an artist’s work station that can be covered must be covered in plastic protective barriers (barrier gowns, clip cord covers, machine bags, etc.)
Most artists opt for setups that are entirely disposable. Disposable tubes, grips, and more allow them to simply throw away any materials that might carry bloodborne pathogens after each client. This cuts down on the risk of cross-contamination between customers.
Some artists prefer steel tubes and grips. An ultrasonic cleaner as well as an autoclave are used to destroy infectious material before they’re used on another client.
You cannot dispose of needles or any materials that have blood on them in a normal trash can (even if you put the needles in a glass or plastic container). It exposes waste management workers to life-threatening disease and all biohazard waste must be incinerated.
Not disposing of infectious material the right way can get a tattoo shop shut down immediately. (It can also get an artist’s license revoked.)
To get rid of biohazard waste safely, you will need to work with your trash collection agency (and pay an additional fee). Usually, this will involve a closed, biohazard dumpster or putting used materials in trash bags marked as biohazard waste that they will then come pick up.
Used needles and razors should always be put in a protected sharps bin immediately after use. (It’s best for a sharps bin to be mounted on the wall at each artist’s station.)
Every tattoo shop must have an Exposure Control Plan. It’s a document that all employees use to make sure all the safety protocols are being followed when they are in a situation where they could be exposed to a bloodborne pathogen (which, in a tattoo shop, is constantly).
The exposure control plan will be tailored to the space you’re in and may even have specific jobs employees have to carry out.
The document is updated every year to include any new tasks or employees, as well as new technology in the shop that helps make a safer environment. Unless you also own the shop, you will not be required to write an Exposure Control Plan as an artist. However, it is your responsibility to know what is in the plan and to perform your work following the guidelines in the plan.
An Exposure Control Plan identifies:
Bloodborne Pathogens Training
The key thing to look for when finding bloodborne pathogens training online is that the training is OSHA-approved and will end with you receiving a certificate that you passed the class.
Get BBP Training online today with:
Most states require you to present a passing grade (which is determined at the state level) in order to get a tattoo license.
Some states provide exams themselves to future tattoo artists. However, most have approved OSHA bloodborne pathogens training. Find out which BBP training your state has approved here.
Bloodborne pathogens training certificates are usually valid for 1-2 years. You will regularly need to re-enroll in the course to keep an up-to-date certification.
At the moment, there is no entirely free bloodborne pathogens training course. A lot of websites offer a free bloodborne pathogens training video. However, the “catch” is that you have to pay to receive your certificate after passing the test.
Others will offer a free certificate...after you pay for the training course. So, you’ll need to pay at some point during the training.
Luckily, training is pretty cheap, ranging from $35-$60.
Most shops and states accept OSHA’s BBP training, as well as training from the Red Cross.
Some tattoo shop owners will pay for artists’ ongoing training. However, as a tattoo artist, it is your responsibility to ensure that your BBP training is current. In most states, it is illegal for you to perform a tattoo with an expired BBP certification.
Obviously, when it comes to exposure to bloodborne pathogens, prevention is your best friend. Almost every state requires new tattoo artists to present proof that they:
Not vaccinated yet? Find a hepatitis B vaccine near you. This vaccine is covered by most insurance plans; it usually costs between $70-$130 without insurance.
If you get a needlestick injury or think you have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens another way in your tattoo shop, you need to speak up immediately and follow the protocols in the Exposure Control Plan.
If you’ve been exposed to someone with a disease caused by a bloodborne pathogen, you need to go to the doctor right away. You’ll be given medication to help prevent infection (most effective if you get it within a few hours of being exposed). You’ll then return to the doctor in 2-3 months for a blood panel to see if there is any sign of infection in your blood.
Every client should be treated as if they have AIDS. Most of the time, HIV has no symptoms for many years. The carrier may not know they have it and can appear healthy.
If you know your client has a disease caused by a bloodborne pathogen, the decision of whether to give them a tattoo is up to you and your comfort level. You are never required to give someone a tattoo, even if tattooing is your job.
You are always allowed to turn down clients if their health, behavior, or design choices make you uncomfortable.
Understanding Tattooing Safety and Beyond
BBP certifications tell you how to stay safe around bloodborne pathogens. However, many of the courses are very general so that they can apply to a variety of jobs. Being a tattoo artist requires very specific knowledge. You need to know how to set up a sanitary station and use needles safely while still treating them as an artistic medium.
The Artist Accelerator Program has modules explaining how to do both. Inside, you’ll get clear, easy-to-follow tutorials of how to set up and break down your station safely. You’ll also discover how to use your tattoo equipment to create incredible designs...while still protecting your client and yourself.
Ready to tattoo like a pro? Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.
Nathan I have been an artist for 12 years I have been tattooing for 10 of those years. I just lost the second most important thing in my life. You may be able to guess what I am going to say next but some of my tattoo equipment that I had just purchased was burned in my wifes and my house fire. But reading your emails that I get everyday are inspirational I absolutely love,appreciate, and look forward to them everyday. I thank you very much for everything and hope to find a spot somewhere in the future