Occupations that involve working closely with humans, animals and biological waste pose risks to the worker’s health. Most of those reported are diarrheal diseases, but needle stick injuries can occur where viruses are transmitted. The control of exposure within the workplace is governed by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). Additional advisory information is available from the Department of Health and the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP). Specific advice is available on specific blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis, HIV, TB and vCJD etc. There is also advice available on laboratory settings, clinical waste, post-mortems and funeral undertaking. The HSE do not generally deal with clinical matters as they are dealt with elsewhere.
Micro-organisms are found almost everywhere and most are harmless. Some of them do very important jobs such as their use in the making of medicine, cleaning up oil spills. Half of the oxygen we breathe is attributable to micro-organisms. However, some micro-organisms can cause disease when employees are exposed to them at work. These include bacteria, viruses, fungi and internal parasites. Most of the time one picks up an infection, but they can also cause allergies and be toxic. There are different hazards associated with the different occupations. Some of these are listed below.
Occupations where there is direct physical contact with humans
This includes nurses, care workers, undertakers. Here, workers may provide assistance with feeding, washing, dressing. Sources of infection include direct skin contact, body fluids, human waste. In occupations where there is unpredictable behaviour like spitting, scratching etc., there are risks of infection. An example here would be custodial workers.
Activities where there is contact with human waste
This includes nurses, ancillary health care workers such as porters, cleaners, sewerage workers, drain cleaners, refuse collectors, crime scene investigators, doctors, laundry workers and emergency service workers. Human waste may be on spoiled laundry, clothes etc.
Activities that involve the cutting/piercing of human skin
This includes post mortem technicians, tattooists, acupuncturists, dentists, nurses, doctors, undertakers. Sources of infection could come from blood. Even hairdressers and beauticians may also be at risk, because there is direct skin contact.
Activities where there is direct physical contact with animals
Occupations include farmers, veterinary workers, kennel/cattery workers and animal rescue workers. Sources of infection can come from direct skin contact, infectious aerosols and body fluids. Animals can be unpredictable and may bite or scratch.
Activities where there is direct physical contact with animal waste
This includes occupations where there is direct physical contact with animals and includes poultry processors, slurry spreaders, abattoir workers, park cleaners and grooms.
Activities where there is cutting of animal skin
This includes butchers, abattoir workers, veterinary workers and poultry processors.
When working with humans, animals and biological waste, there are many hazards that pose a risk to the worker. The approach would be to assess the risks and have control measures in place to protect against them. When assessing the risk involved with people and animals, one must consider both the living and the dead. Once a risk assessment within the work area has been carried out, there are duties under COSHH to stop workers being exposed to sources of infection.