Would you hire an applicant with Hepatitis B or would you fire an employee if he contracts Hepatitis B? 🤔
What would you do with this kind of situation? Here’s what you need to know:
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is one of the three types of viral hepatitis. It is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B Virus which could be classified as acute or chronic illness.
Employees with acute illness can experience symptoms that may be similar to having the flu and some, but not all, can have jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
On the other hand, chronic Hepatitis B is a life-long infection which may lead to serious health issues and are at risk for liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
How is it different from Hepatitis A and Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis A infection is transmitted through intake of contaminated food and drink. It is self-limiting which means, it usually resolves without specific treatment.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, on the other hand, can be acquired from infected blood and body fluids. It can start as acute illness, but may lead to a lifelong infection that may cause complications in the liver such as liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer (tumor of the liver).
How to recognize an employee with Hepatitis B?
Employees with Hepatitis B may be unaware of their status because, symptoms may not appear for years.
However, once infected, common flu-like symptoms may occur within the first few months of exposure, after which most people may go through long periods of looking or feeling fine.
- extreme tiredness for weeks or months
- loss of appetite, nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
- joint pains
- eyes or skin turning yellow (jaundice).
How do you get Hepatitis B in the workplace?
An employee can get Hepatitis through:
- direct contact with infected blood and blood products, as well as sexual fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid
- material contaminated with infected blood or blood products or sexual fluids (even from a tiny amount) such as:
- soiled linen
- sanitary waste
- used needles and other sharps such as broken glass, blades, etc.
However, you cannot get Hepatitis B through sharing of utensils, sharing drinks, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.
What happens if an employee is exposed to Hepatitis B?
Usually, an exposure in the workplace happens through a needle stick or sharps injury or when an employee has wound and was exposed to a contaminated material.
Immediately, bring the employee to your clinic for first aid treatment:
- Promptly flush the wound under running water.
- Wash it with warm water and liquid soap
- Thoroughly pat-dry the area.
- Apply bandage and apply pressure through the dressing if bleeding is still occurring.
- Collect the needle stick or sharp appropriately by using gloves or tongs and placed in a sealed container.
It may also occur through splashes involving contact with the eyes, mouth or nose with blood or other body fluids.
- Remove contaminated clothing.
- If the eyes, nose or mouth are affected rinse thoroughly with warm water (without soap) or saline.
Other instructions to take note:
- Instruct the employee to go straight to a doctor or to nearest chosen health facility.
- Keep the sealed container with the sharp inside, the health facility may need it for the investigation.
- Offer the employee access to a trauma counselling service.
- Ensure the incident is investigated and, where practical, steps taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
- Document and report the incident to the OSH committee.
How can a company prevent occurrence of Hepatitis B?
The company that follows the principles of a three-step risk management process has an advantage in the prevention of Hepatitis B in the workplace:
- Hazard identification
- Risk assessment
- Risk control
Simple and practical health programs to reduce the transmission can be implemented as well:
- Workplace education and training in safe work practices,
- The use of personal protective equipment and the use of standard precaution in all situations
- Bandage all cuts right away to avoid contact with other people.
- Blood and other body fluid should be cleaned using a solution of 1 part bleach, 9 parts water.
- Wear gloves when cleaning up items soiled with blood or other body fluids
- Put sharp items into a solid sharps container
- Practice handwashing
- The implementation of a vaccination program.
Should the company shoulder the vaccines for its employee?
Unlike Hepatitis C which has no available vaccine, the Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective, providing almost 100% protection against Hepatitis B.
It involves 3 injections over 6 months for adults.
Companies where there is a significant risk of contracting Hepatitis B at work must have vaccination protocol that is included in a policy for prevention and control of infectious disease for the workplace.
Takeaways about the Hepatitis B Workplace Policy
- It is mandatory for all private workplace to have a policy on hepatitis B and to implement a workplace program.
- All employees shall be provided with basic information about Hepatitis B.
- Employers shall create preventive strategies to prevent exposure to the said illness.
- There shall be no discrimination of any form against workers on the basis of their Hepatitis B Status.
- The management cannot terminate an employee from employment solely because of having hepatitis B. They should be able to go to work as long as they are medically fit to work.
- Applicants and employees must not be forced to disclose their hepatitis B status.
- The access to their personal data relating to their Hepatitis B status shall be bound by the rules of confidentiality and shall be strictly limited to the medical staff or if legally required.
- Employers must provide their employees with Hepatitis B reasonable accommodations to enable them to continue at their job. Reasonable accommodations may include flexible leave arrangements for medical appointments, rescheduling of working time, and arrangement for return to work and redistribution of responsibilities to help employees keep their job while undergoing treatment.
- Screening for Hepatitis B as prerequisite for employment shall not be mandatory.
- Employees who contracts Hepatitis B during their employment are entitled to sickness benefits and employees compensation of their company.
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