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Protection against blood-borne virus infection places legal obligations on employers

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By Scott Whittaker*

Now the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s Code of Practice for the prevention of blood-borne virus infection in the workplace is a legal requirement, employers must have controls in place that meets or exceeds its guidelines.

The NOHSC policy [NOHSC 2010 (2003)] is particularly focused on prevention of hepatitis infection as well as HIV (blood-borne) viruses in workplaces – all workplaces. It recognises that exposure to blood-borne pathogens (viruses, bacteria etc) poses a serious risk in many workplaces.

In broad outline, Workcover now requires all employers to have controls in place for the handling of body fluid spills such as vomit, blood, faeces, urine etc.

Its scope is all-encompassing and relates both to workers and non-workers on-site.

To help managers and safety officers understand their obligations, The National Safety Council of Australia is running seminars specifically on this subject. Supplementary practical guidance on many of the subjects covered is contained in a training CD prepared by Enware ZeoMed. This CD, available upon request, is designed to help employers and owners of buildings to comply and to train employees as to the use of these systems. The kits have been developed in consultation with Workcover and exceed the minimum legal requirements of the policy.

Legal requirements

The code stipulates that employers must have in place controls or systems that meet or exceed the minimum legal requirements of the Code of Practice for protecting workers and non-workers from infection from blood borne virus in the workplace.

Examples of blood-borne pathogens that may be transmitted include:

• Hepatitis B (HBV): a virus that causes inflammation of the liver and liver disease.

• Hepatitis C (HCV): a slow-acting virus that causes inflammation of the liver and liver disease. No cure

• Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): a human retrovirus that leads to Aids. No cure

Sources of infection of HBV, HCV and HIV can be blood and body fluids/substances from persons who are infected with the viruses; or body fluids defined as; blood, vomit, faeces, urine.

Employers are directly responsible

This code is intended chiefly for use by primary duty holders - employers, self-employed and other controllers of workplaces who owe a duty of care to workers. Their controls must contain:

PROTECTIVE CLOTHING (PPE) - Workers involved in cleaning must wear protective clothing including gloves, face and eye shields, waterproof apron to prevent contamination of clothing.

SPILL CONTAINMENT - Confine and contain the spill.

Cover the spill with paper towels or absorbent granules, depending on the size of the spill, to absorb the bulk of the blood or body fluid/substance.

SPILL MANAGEMENT - Treat debris as clinical waste. Must be in sealed, leakproof yellow bag with bio hazard symbol.

Contaminated areas should be cleaned thoroughly with warm water and neutral detergent.

In response to these requirements Enware has developed the ZeoMed system to provide an hygienic collection and storage system for spills commonly encountered in workplace, and public areas, including blood, vomit and body fluids that pose health hazards.

*Scott Whittaker is manager of Enware ZeoMed 1300 798 744.

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