A co-worker has Hepatitis C. How can I protect myself?

I work at remote locations. We stay at one location for 24/7 as long as a week at a time then go to the next one. There is a employee with hepatitis C. The work we do is extremely hazardous, and the chance of getting hurt if not careful is high. All that would have to happen is for him to nick himself on a sharp edge of metal (and there is a lot of it out here) then go to his truck to bandage himself. In the process he touches the door handle with his bloody hand, and minutes later I or anyone else could come by and touch the blood by accident. There are lots of scenarios that I could come up with but you get the point.

Is there anything that my company can do legally? I told a manager about it and he said there is nothing that he can do. Even if you rule out work related hazards there is still the threat of contraction by means of a mosquito. Sorry this ran on, but I felt the need to tell the particulars of this unique situation.

Posted 04-12-2012

Ann Kiernan replies:

The good news is that hepatitis C is not as contagious as you think. The virus is transmitted only through blood-to-blood contact, which means that, in order for the virus to be passed on, blood from an infected person must enter the bloodstream of another person. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can spread the virus.

No one has ever been infected with hepatitis C through:

  • Sharing eating utensils, dishes or glasses
  • Consuming food or drink prepared by an infected person
  • Being coughed or sneezed on
  • Using the same bathroom, toilet, shower, or sink
  • Sharing water fountains or coffee pots
  • Sharing office supplies, computers, tools, telephones, desks, or uniforms
  • Shaking hands, hugging, kissing, or other casual contact.

So your boss is right: There is nothing special that needs to be done to protect co-workers, other than the universal precautions we all should be using:

  • All workplaces should be equipped with first aid kits that contain a pair of gloves, latex barriers and mouth guards to protect both the person giving and the person receiving first aid.
  • First aid should be administered without delay. If required, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with a mouth guard to avoid coming into contact with blood.
  • Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned up using a mixture of one part household bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Report any workplace accidents to a supervisor as soon as possible.

Let’s be careful out there!

 

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.

2016-11-18T16:00:39+00:00

About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.