World Hepatitis Day: Guidance for Preventing Hepatitis in the Workplace

Every year on the 28th of July, the World Hepatitis Alliance attempts to raise awareness of viral hepatitis with World Hepatitis Day (WHD).

Worldwide, 300 million people are completely unaware that they are living with viral hepatitis.

This year’s campaign, “Find the Missing Millions” asks people across the world to take action, raise awareness and join the quest to find the “missing millions”.

Here in the UK, as part of health and wellbeing strategies in the workplace, it’s important that anyone whose work exposes them to blood or other bodily fluids is given the correct safety measures and support to avoid the risk of contracting a blood-borne virus like hepatitis.

Inspired by World Hepatitis Day, we take a look at how employers can avoid the risk of their employees contracting hepatitis at work.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection.

There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.

Some types will pass without any serious problems, while others can be long-lasting and cause scarring of the liver, loss of liver function and, in some cases, liver cancer.

What is Hepatitis A?

People will usually catch it by consuming contaminated food or drink and it’s most common in countries with poor sanitation.

Hepatitis A usually passes within a few months, although it can occasionally be severe and even life-threatening. While there is no specific treatment, symptoms such as pain, nausea and itching can be hard to relieve.

A lab technician testing blood for hepatitis next to a vial of infected blood

What is Hepatitis B?

A common infection worldwide and spread in the blood of an infected person.

Uncommon in the UK, most cases affect people who became infected while growing up in places where the infection is more common, such as Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Adults can usually fight off the virus and fully recover within a couple of months. However, most people infected as children develop a long-term infection. The hepatitis B vaccine is now part of the routine immunisation programme for all children in the UK.

What is Hepatitis C?

The most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK, it's usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. With no noticeable symptoms, many people are unaware that they're infected.

Around one in four people will fight off the infection and be free of the virus. In the remaining cases, it will stay in the body for many years and can be treated with very effective antiviral medications. However, there's currently no vaccine available.

Hepatitis C virus

What is Hepatitis D?

This only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B.

Uncommon in the UK, Hepatitis D is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It's more widespread in other parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

What is Hepatitis E?

Mainly associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat or offal, as well as wild boar meat, venison and shellfish, this is the most common cause of short-term hepatitis in the UK.

Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that doesn't require any treatment, but it can be serious in some people, such as those who have a weakened immune system.

Guidance for employers on blood-borne viruses like hepatitis

Any work where exposure to blood or other bodily fluids may occur also comes with the risk of exposure to blood-borne viruses like hepatitis.

A lab technician in hazard clothing peering through a microscope

The Health and Safety Executive has put together a guidance document on blood-borne viruses in the workplace.

The types of work where this can be a risk include, but are not limited to:

  • 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

How can hepatitis be spread in the workplace?

Blood-borne viruses (BBVs) like hepatitis are mainly transmitted sexually or by direct exposure to infected blood or other body fluids contaminated with infected blood.

Single use syringes full of blood on top of a hazardous waste bin

In the workplace, this can happen through accidental contamination by a sharp instrument, or through contamination of open wounds or splashes to the eyes, nose or mouth.

Employers have a legal right under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to protect the health of their employees and anyone else on the premises.

There is also specific legislation contained in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) on hazards arising from working with biological agents such as BBVs.

What should you do as an employer?

When a risk is known, employers should take suitable precautions to protect employees' health.

They should be given adequate information, instruction and training on any risks to their health which they may face at work.

Business owners should:

Illustration of a sharps container

If anyone is contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids prompt medical advice is important.

Prevention Beyond World Hepatitis Day

World Hepatitis Day is a great initiative for raising awareness of hepatitis, although more can be done. 

If you work in a sector that is at risk of exposure to BBVs like hepatitis, our occupational health services can help to ensure that the correct procedures are in place to protect employees and give them the help and support they need.

For more information, contact the team at Fusion today.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingHealth WiseOccupational Health

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