World Hepatitis Day on 28 July is an opportunity for employers to reiterate the importance of safe occupational and workplace health practices around blood-borne disease transmission. This is especially the case if your organisation uses sharps or if employees may be at risk of blood on-blood contact during their day to-day work.
Employee health and wellbeing – preventing blood-borne diseases in the workplace
For organisations with employees at risk of blood-on-blood contact, especially those working within the NHS or “blue light” services, World Hepatitis Day at the end of this month (28 July) is an opportunity to step back and reflect upon how you are doing in terms of occupational health prevention, screening and support around blood-borne disease transmission.
World Hepatitis Day, as its names suggests, is a global awareness-raising event, run by the World Hepatitis Alliance since 2008 and backed by the World Health Organization.
It was launched in response to concern that chronic viral hepatitis did not have the level of awareness, nor the political priority, seen with other communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Its aim is to highlight the fact that 300 million people worldwide are living unaware of the fact they have viral hepatitis, and improving diagnosis and care, especially in poorer parts of the world.
That in itself, of course, is highly laudable and something employers can embrace and promote within their workplaces.
UK as well as global issue
Back in May, NHS England, as part of its Long Term Plan, outlined ambitious plans to work to eliminate hepatitis C in England through a combination of new drugs and better screening, prevention and treatment.
More than 30,000 people have already benefited from new drugs that can cure hepatitis C being made available on the NHS over the last few years, it said.
There has also been much public focus in recent months on the issue of blood-borne diseases as a result of the government’s ongoing infected blood inquiry into the NHS contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s.
What, then, should employers be doing to protect and support employees affected by, or at risk of, all forms of hepatitis (A, B and C) or other blood borne diseases?
Understand the risks
First, it is important simply to understand the risks and how to manage them. The Health and Safety Executive, for example, has a useful web page devoted to protection against blood-borne viruses that is a great place to start.
It includes advice on how to eliminate risk, safe systems, personal protection (both clothing and equipment) and how to deal with an exposure or incident.
Second, get in the advice and support of an expert. This could be an occupational health provider able to offer expert risk management, screening and testing and health surveillance.
Finally, and just as importantly, as Optima Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Lucy Wright explains, it is vital you ensure employees are “owning” risk management and safe practice within the organisation.
“Safe practice and processes can only work effectively if they are well communicated, accepted and, crucially, followed,” she says.
“It is therefore imperative that best practice in this area is promoted and backed from the top down, that policies and procedures are clearly communicated and regularly refreshed so they do not go ‘stale’ and corners do not end up being cut, which is when incidents can happen.
“Awareness-raising events such as World Hepatitis Day may, at one level, be about tackling global problems. But they are also an opportunity for employers to revisit and reflect on important workplace health and safety messages and practices closer to home,” Lucy adds.