Blood borne viruses (BBV’s) are viruses that some people carry in their blood which may cause severe harm to others or may cause no symptoms at all. The main ones are hepatitis B, C & D and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These viruses are mainly found in semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Other bodily fluids that cause minimal risk are saliva, urine, faeces, and sputum. In the workplace, exposure can be through sharps, contamination through open wounds or splashes to the eyes, nose or mouth. One can also become infected if they breathe in contaminated droplets from the air. In many hospitals MRSA is a problem.
The two occupations most at risk are those who work in healthcare and those who work in laboratories. It has been reported that there has been infection rates of 30 in100 000 for nurses per year and 100 per 100 000 per year for health care workers. Another industry where there is a risk to workers is laboratory work, for example, blood typing in a hematology laboratory. Other areas of risk include working with animals (farming), dealing with waste material that may contain micro-organisms and working in an environment or with equipment that could be contaminated (e.g sewer work). There are various regulations that need to be adhered to, to protect the employee. These include the Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH).
There are many simple ways to control the risk of contracting a blood borne virus. Eating, drinking or smoking should be prohibited in areas where contamination can occur. Rest and meal breaks should be taken away from the main work area. Hand to mouth or hand to eye contact should be avoided. In almost every task, where there is a risk, gloves should be worn. Sharps, needles and glass should be carefully handled. Safer needle devices and blunt ended scissors should be considered. Eyes and mouth should be protected by using goggles and a mask. Skins should be covered using waterproof dressing and no wounds or scratches should be exposed in high risk working environments. Water resistant protective clothing and rubber boots should be used when walking on contaminated areas or where there is a likelihood to be splashes. Waste should be carefully disposes of. Hands should be washed regularly and after all work tasks. If the work involves the production of aerosols of either dust or liquid form, a vacuum, rather than a dustpan and brush, should be used. Appropriate respiratory protective equipment should be used as necessary.
Where possible, it may be possible for health care workers to be immunized against some BBV’s. Hepatitis, for example, can be immunized against. Heat or chemical decontamination procedures can be used to kill BBV’s. Spillages and contaminated objects should be de-contaminated in this way. The disposal of clinical waste is subject to strict controls, as required by COSHH. There is a legal duty under the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) to report all incidences.