Sharps Risk Assessment: Blood Borne Diseases

You may consider yourself to be the most careful person on the planet. You always exercise caution and care in everything you do yet it only takes one misstep for incidents like a sharps injury to occur and infection then follows. Even if you don’t work in the medical industry, the potential risk for sharps injuries is everywhere. When this risk is not contained, exposure to blood-borne viruses is inevitable and at times could be deadly.

Hepatitis viruses–this includes Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HBC)–as well as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are just among the blood-borne viruses that are commonly encountered at work. The major risk of contracting these diseases stem from sharps injuries, which are possible even in non-health sectors. Whatever sector they work in, people can still be exposed to sharps like used needles as well as syringes. This is why proper disposal of sharps is vital in order to limit occupational exposure to infection and prevent further spreading, should an employee be infected with either HBV, HCV or HIV.

In relation to this occupational hazard, Safe Work Australia has implemented a National Code of Practice for the Control of Work-related Exposure to Hepatitis and HIV (Blood-borne) Viruses. Under this code is a three-step risk management process, which is firstly hazard identification. Once it has been identified, the next steps are risk assessment followed by risk control.

In the case that an employee suffers an accidental injury or perhaps gets infected by a blood borne disease like either hepatitis or HIV during the course of work, employers should immediately contact relevant State or Territory occupational health and safety agency.

To give you an idea of how serious blood borne diseases are, here is an overview of what they are and how they can be transmitted through a sharps injury.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an infectious disease of the liver that is caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). It can lead to either acute or chronic infection. Some of the symptoms include vomiting, jaundice, fatigue, dark urine as well as abdominal pain.

HBV can be transmitted from one individual to another through infected blood. It can also be passed on when infected body fluids/substances enter the body. This can occur when:

  • a person is injected or injured with contaminated equipment used for injections like a needlestick or an infusion set for intravenous drug use, to name a few.
  • a person is injured by other sharp objects like syringes and shared razors, the latter could indirectly transfer infected blood

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that primarily affects the liver and is caused by HCV or the Hepatitis C Virus.The infection may either be asymptomatic or chronic. It is often the former but when it is the latter, it can lead to fibrosis or scarring of the liver and eventually cirrhosis. Chronic infection is more serious as those with cirrhosis may experience liver failure or even develop liver cancer.

HCV is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact associated with:

  • intravenous drug use
  • poorly sterilized medical equipment
  • transfusions
  • injury from contaminated sharps

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system, affecting its ability to battle infection. This then leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Although not as infectious as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, HIV can be spread through similar means. This includes:

  • sharps injury (this includes needlesticks)
  • needle sharing related to drug use
  • transmission via contaminated needles and other sharp objects

Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV are serious blood borne diseases, which can all be transmitted through sharps injury. This is why businesses should exercise care and provide a sharps bins for proper disposal, especially those in the medical and healthcare industry, where exposure to contaminated sharps is higher. Business establishments should embrace social responsibility and also provide a sharps disposal in order to provide a safe working environment for their staff as well as their customers.

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