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Management of Infectious Diseases in the Workplace

Posted by Robert O'Neill on Feb 12, 2020 5:38:00 PM
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Limiting the spread of infectious, communicable diseases within the workplace is a complex and frequently sensitive issue. Hazards associated with diseases vary significantly from one workplace to another and the need to privacy adds further complications.

Management of communicable diseases needs to be handled with consideration and empathy, while executed in a way that doesn’t endanger others.

Communicable Diseases

Communicable diseases may be communicated from one person to another whilst at work. These include:

  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a blood borne infection that may progress to the AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) disease.
  • Hepatitis, a disease of the liver, that can occur in several types and be caused by exposure to viruses or chemicals.
  • SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a respiratory illness. It is a form of acute pneumonia and most probably spread through sneezing or coughing although current research has suggested the possibility of direct airborne or contact transmission.
  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can make humans and animals sick. They cause illnesses that can range from the common cold to more severe diseases. The novel coronavirus is called ‘novel’ because it is new. It was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City in China.
  • Any notifiable disease, listed in the relevant legislation as requiring notification to the authorities. This may include diseases such as AIDS, Chlamydia trachomatis infection, varoiushepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, leprosy, syphilis, tuberculosis, lead exposure, legionellosis, SARS and others, as defined in each jurisdiction including Novel Coronavirus.

Conduct Hazard Identification

All activities and environments where staff may be potentially exposed to communicable diseases, particularly blood borne diseases, should be identified and documented.

Close attention should be paid to people who are at higher risk of blood contamination. This includes:

  • Persons providing health services and first aid
  • People required to travel into known areas of infection
  • Workers who, in the course of their work, need to access pits, manholes and other enclosed spaces located in public areas, which may have been used to dispose of syringes and other potentially hazardous sharp objects
  • Laboratory personnel working with blood
  • Accident and emergency response personnel
  • Any personnel who work in public areas where they may come into contact with discarded and potentially hazardous sharp objects
  • People who work with children

Implement Control Measures

Control measures should be put in place so people who may be exposed to communicable diseases are protected. These measures should include safe work practices and personal protective equipment.

Workers who, in the normal course of their work, may encounter hazards (particularly used syringes) should be issued with and trained in the use of a 'Sharp Objects Collection Kit'. This kit should include at least retrieval tongs and a canister.

Vaccinate where appropriate

Workers who are at the highest risk of being exposed to blood borne diseases should be encouraged to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B (the only effective vaccination currently available).

Active immunisation consists of three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine given by intramuscular injection at:

  • Initial dose;
  • 1 month after initial dose; and
  • 6 months after initial dose.

Personnel who have been immunised with a full primary course of the vaccine and are considered to be immune to Hepatitis B should not need further booster doses of Hepatitis B vaccine.

People who have not demonstrated adequate immunity to Hepatitis B virus should be referred to an Occupational Physician for further assessment.

Ensure privacy

Strictly confidential records of communicable diseases should be kept in the medical files of the affected persons.

Report and investigate

All incidents involving communicable diseases need to be properly investigated and documented and the appropriate corrective actions developed and implemented. A post-exposure management programme, including counselling, should be considered and offered where appropriate.

If a worker is suffering from a notifiable disease, it should be reported to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible. This could include notification of instances of Novel Coronavirus and SARS, as required by legislation. In some jurisdictions it is a requirement to report to the authority any instances of personnel exposed to bodily fluids in which there is a risk of the transmission of blood-borne diseases.

Business Continuity Planning

Are you prepared for a significant external impact on your operations? We are currently assisting a number of our clients with continuity planning.

Please contact our senior associate Bill Fitzgerald on 1300 610 059 for further information.

Further Novel Coronavirus resources for employers is available here.

General advice warning

The information on this site is of a general nature only. It does not take your specific needs or circumstances into consideration. You should look at your own situation and requirements before making any decisions.

Topics: Occupational Health and Wellbeing