Controlling Blood-Borne Disease in the Workplace

Posted: Feb. 18, 2020 • By Kevin Kohler

Controlling Blood-Borne Disease in the Workplace

What are blood borne diseases?

Blood-borne diseases result from exposure to micro-organisms (pathogens) that are present in human blood.  The three most common blood-borne pathogens include hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that with more blood-borne pathogens and multi-drug resistant organisms, the risk to workers with occupational exposure may be even greater than in past years.

How can we become infected?

Workers can become infected with blood-borne pathogens through: 

  • Contact with a “sharp” blood contaminated object such as a needle, or any other contaminated object that can penetrate the skin
  • Exposure to an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids through a mucous membrane (eye, mouth, etc.) or damaged skin (injury, eczema)
  • Exposure to blood or bodily fluids contaminated surfaces or objects

Who is at risk of being infected?

The persons most obviously at risk of contracting blood-borne diseases are health care workers.  They are potentially exposed to infected persons and medical sharps while carrying out their work duties.

There are others who are also potentially exposed because they may come in close contact with infected persons, blood contaminated objects and/or blood or bodily fluid contaminated locations. These workers include:

  • First aid providers and emergency services workers
  • Custodial workers and cleaners
  • Refuse collection and sorting workers
  • Social workers and others working in close contact with members of the public
  • Plumbers and sewage processing workers 

How do we control the hazards of blood-borne disease?

Employers should always consider the risk of infection from blood-borne disease when carrying out hazard assessments.  Where specific risks associated with job tasks are identified, appropriate controls must be applied and employees trained to recognize the hazards and use the appropriate controls.

Where exposure is more likely controls should be in-place to ensure that workers are not inadvertently exposed.  These activities may include:

  • Providing first aid
  • Trash collection (particularly washrooms or anywhere that syringes and medical sharps may be present)
  • Cleaning (particularly vehicles, washrooms, or public areas)

What are universal precautions?

For certain specified activities or conditions, such as providing first aid to an injured patient or cleaning high risk areas, “universal precautions” should be followed.  Under “universal precautions” patients, or objects and surfaces, are assumed to be contaminated.  Protocols are established for PPE use (goggles, face shields, gloves, protective clothing), disinfection procedures and the safe disposal of waste in marked biohazard containers.  Universal precautions should be observed in any high-risk activity identified through the hazard assessment process and for the provision of first aid to injured or ill patients.

What are my legislated requirements?

Many jurisdictions have specific legislation concerning the protection of workers from bio-hazards and blood-borne disease. The legislation may include:

  • Providing vaccinations to exposed workers
  • Testing of infectious patients if workers have been exposed
  • Reporting and testing exposed workers
  • Disclosure of test results to workers
  • Mandatory training and PPE use

Best Practices

For most workers contracting a blood-borne disease is a low risk, however the consequences can be life changing.  You should determine how your employees might be at risk and take appropriate steps to educate them and control the hazards.

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