Health Wise: Jobs at risk of contracting hepatitis

In our role as occupational health providers, we are committed to providing employers and employees with the best support and advice they need.

This can be particularly important when it comes to certain industry sectors.

If your job exposes you to blood or other bodily fluids, you will be at a much higher risk of contracting blood-borne viruses like hepatitis.

In a previous blog about World Hepatitis Day, we looked at the different forms of hepatitis. But in this article, we’re going to focus specifically on some of the jobs that pose the highest risk of contracting hepatitis.

Sectors most at risk of hepatitis

Anyone involved in work where exposure to blood or other body fluids may occur is at risk of blood-borne viruses, such as hepatitis.

While this is not a comprehensive list, sectors most at risk include:

  • Prisons/detention centres/homes
  • Education
  • Embalming and crematorium work
  • Emergency services
  • Hairdressing and beauticians’ work
  • Healthcare
  • Laboratory work
  • Street cleaning/park and public lavatory maintenance/refuse disposal

  • Medical/dental equipment repair
  • Military
  • Mortuary work
  • Needle exchange services
  • Plumbing
  • Sewage processing
  • Social services
  • Tattooing, ear and body piercing
  • Vehicle recovery and repair

Protecting staff at risk of hepatitis

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a legal right to protect the health of their staff and anyone else on the premises.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) also contains specific legislation on hazards arising from working with blood-borne viruses.

What precautions can employers take?

In high-risk occupations, you can take measures to prevent or control the risk of contracting hepatitis.

Ensure that you:

  • Prohibit eating, drinking, smoking and the application of cosmetics in working areas
  • Prevent puncture wounds, cuts and abrasions
  • Avoid the use of, or exposure to, sharps such as needles, glass, metal etc. 
  • Take care in the handling and disposal of any sharps if their use is unavoidable
  • Use waterproof dressings and gloves to cover all breaks in exposed skin

  • Use water-resistant protective clothing to avoid contamination
  • Wear rubber boots or plastic disposable overshoes
  • Use good basic hygiene practices, such as handwashing;
  • Control contamination of surfaces 
  • Use appropriate decontamination procedures
  • Dispose of contaminated waste safely

The importance of immunisation

Immunisation does not provide guaranteed protection against blood-borne viruses. 

However, it is always best to develop a vaccination or immunisation programme for staff.

Immunisation for hepatitis A

Hepatitis A infection is usually acquired by ingestion of contaminated water or food.

Immunisation for hepatitis A would be offered to workers who may routinely come into contact with raw sewage.

The course consists of two injections given within a 12-month period and will give a period of 10-year protection. 

Immunisation for hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is transmitted by infected blood or saliva entering the bloodstream. This may be due to being bitten or scratched or being stabbed by a hypodermic needle containing infected blood. 

The course consists of three injections, usually given at zero, 1-2 and 6 months old. You will require a blood test 2-3 months after the third injection to check if you have established enough protection. Your blood result will determine if and when further booster injections are required. 

Support for sectors at risk of hepatitis 

You can find more information in the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance document on blood-borne viruses in the workplace.

Or, if you’d like to find out how our own occupational health services can support sectors at risk of hepatitis, call the team at Fusion today.

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Categories: Health & WellbeingHealth WiseOccupational HealthSupport

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