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Blood-borne viruses in the workplace

10 August 2001 - A new booklet, "Blood-borne viruses in the workplace - guidance for employers and employees" has been published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It is aimed at employers, employees, the self-employed, safety representatives, first aiders and other people whose work could involve exposure to blood. The guide ccvers the following issues:

- what blood-borne viruses (BBVs) are;
- the sort of work where exposure to blood or other body fluids may occur;
- how BBVs are transmitted;
- the legal framework and the duties it places on employers;
- how to prevent infection and what actions to take in the event of possible BBV transmission.

BBVs are carried in the bloodstream and can cause serious diseases. Of most concern are the Hepatitis B, C and D viruses as they all cause liver disease, and, of course, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

BBV's are not likely to be spread through day to day social contact. Normally they are spread by sexual contact, or through direct exposure to infected blood or other body fluids which have been contaminated with infected blood.

In the workplace, direct exposure can happen by accident: for example through a needlestick or sharps injury. Infected blood may also spread through contamination of open wounds, skin abrasions or through splashes to the eyes, nose or mouth. Much depends on the nature of exposure. Not all exposures result in infection.

According to Margaret Clare, Senior Policy Manager in HSE's Health Directorate's Physical and Biological Agents Division:

"This simple guidance will be particularly useful to employers and employees in occupations where detailed guidance on blood-borne viruses is not available. It provides important advice on how to assess the risk of exposure to these viruses and how to prevent or control that risk."

Free single copies or priced packs of ten of Blood-borne viruses in the workplace guidance for employers and employees, INDG342, can be ordered online at or are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA.


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