Infections at work are caused by exposure to harmful micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, internal parasites, and other infectious proteins known as prions. People can be harmed by being infected with the micro-organism, by being exposed to toxins produced by the micro-organism, or by having an allergic reaction to the micro-organism or substances it produces.
In health and safety legislation, these micro-organisms are known as ‘biological agents’.
Where there is a risk of employees being exposed to biological agents as a result of work activities, a risk assessment must be carried out to determine the likely extent of exposure and to identify necessary control measures.
Examples of work activities that can carry a risk of exposure to biological agents include home care, refuse collecting, litter picking, working in cemeteries, working in sewers and tunnels and near waterways and working with animals.
Examples of infections and diseases that can be contracted as a result of exposure to biological agents include gastro-enteritis, hepatitis, Weil’s disease, tuberculosis, tetanus and rabies.
Control measures that may be implemented include good hygiene, minimising the number of employees exposed, training, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccination.
Where a significant risk of infection is identified and effective vaccines are available, the Council may offer those vaccines to employees. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, if vaccination is necessary to safeguard an employee then it must be provided free of charge. However it should be noted that vaccination as a control measure will be the last resort after all other control measures have been exhausted.
Furthermore it is not the intention of the Council to vaccinate employees where it is assessed that only minor risks are involved that can be avoided by other means, such as good hygiene and safe working practices.
Where vaccination is deemed necessary, managers will be required to obtain the agreement of employees. Employees should be made aware of the benefits, and also of any side effects, of the vaccination and will need to complete a ‘vaccination questionnaire’. Records of vaccinations should be kept on an employee’s personal file.
Advice on infection control can be obtained from both the Health and Safety Team, Tŷ Elai, Williamstown, CF40 1NY, telephone number 01443 425546, and from the Occupational Health and Wellbeing Unit, Municipal Buildings, Gelliwastad Road, Pontypridd, CF37 2DP, telephone number 01443 494003.