Reality Alert: An employee at an outdoor pool helped a patron who got a severe bloody nose while swimming. Unfortunately, the employee was exposed to some of the patron’s blood despite wearing gloves. A few months later, the employee developed symptoms of Hepatitis B, which included abdominal pain, fever, and joint pain. With treatment, the employee was able to fully recover, but only after weeks of pain and illness.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. If the infection lasts longer than six months, it is considered chronic. Chronic hepatitis B increases the risk of liver failure, liver cancer and cirrhosis, or permanent scars of the liver. One of the ways hepatitis B is spread is through accidental needle sticks and exposure to blood. This means it is a concern for anyone whose job involves providing first aid where they may potentially come into contact with blood. Fortunately, a vaccine is available that can protect people against hepatitis B
OSHA Employer Requirements
OSHA requires employers to develop an exposure control plan for employees who may be exposed to blood during the course of their job. This includes any employees who could be called on to provide first aid, including lifeguards, personal trainers, and fitness instructors. Most employers know this includes the use of universal precautions and personal protective equipment; however, many may not be aware that OSHA also requires employers to make the hepatitis B vaccine available to these workers.
OSHA requires that the hepatitis B vaccine be provided at no cost and at a reasonable time and place for the employees. It must be offered after job training is completed and within 10 days of the initial assignment to the job where there is an occupational exposure to hepatitis B. Employees who decline the vaccine should sign a declination form that includes information explaining that they are at an increased risk for getting hepatitis B if exposed to infected blood. If an employee declines the vaccine but is then exposed to blood, they should be offered the vaccine again and the employer again must make it available at no cost. Click here to download a sample declination form.
Providing a vaccine is not a substitute for providing adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE. Adequate PPE includes hand protection, face and eye protection, and body protection for any contact with or clean-up of bodily fluids, including blood. Making sure employees are trained on where to find PPE and how to properly use it is very important as this can help protect them from being exposed to hepatitis B and other bloodborne pathogens in the first place.