Many workers across a number of industries are at risk of contracting Hepatitis A which is spread when the hepatitis A virus is taken in through the mouth. The OHS rep can have a role to play in identifying whether Hepatitis A is a risk at the workplace, and in ensuring the employer puts in place control measures.
Identify the hazard and assess the risks
All work areas and tasks should be assessed.
- Find out whether hepatitis A is a risk in your occupation. You can get more information on Hepatitis A below. Contact your union for further advice if necessary.
- Determine how many and which workers could be exposed.
- Carry out inspections, observe, evaluate current existing precautions.
- Talk to members of your designated work group - ask co-workers whether they are experiencing any health problems about which they are concerned. If any of your members have symptoms of hepatitis A, this must be reported to your employer and their doctor immediately.
- Investigate any past illnesses or complaints, analyse first aid, injury and illness and workers compensation records kept by your employer.
- Workers who are at increased risk of hepatitis A should be immunised. Immunisation against hepatitis A involves a course of injections over six to 12 months and is highly effective in providing protection against this disease. Negotiate an immunisation program with your employer. This may be done through the OHS Committee, if there is one. The cost of immunisation program should be covered by your employer.
- Ensure that all potentially exposed workers are provided with adequate information and training on the causes and symptoms of the disease, work practices and procedures and the use and maintenance of any protective clothing and equipment.
- Ensure that workers are provided with adequate protective clothing and equipment, and that it is maintained so that it remains effective.
Careful Hand Washing - hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and hot running water for at least ten seconds:
- Before preparing food.
- Between handling raw and ready to eat foods.
- Before eating.
- After going to the toilet or after changing nappies. After handling used condoms or after contact with the anal area.
- Food handlers should use single use, disposable paper towels or an air dryer to dry their hands. Cloth towels are not recommended as these get dirty quickly and can spread germs from one person to another.
- Cleaning - When cleaning bathrooms, toilets and nappy change tables in particular (including toilet seats, handles, taps) cleaners should ensure they wear gloves and wash their hands after completing the task.
- For workers in the sex industry: Adopt safe sex practices by always using condoms. Hands must be washed after handling used condoms, or after contact with the anal area.
Although children with hepatitis A under the age of three rarely have symptoms, hepatitis A can spread easily in childcare centres. Therefore, it is crucial that centres have policies on handwashing and cleaning procedures. Ensure that the centre has such a policy and that everyone at the centre has been trained and follows these procedures thoroughly.
What to do if someone is diagnosed with Hepatitis A
Make sure that the worker informs your employer and goes to their own doctor. If the worker contracted the disease through contact at work, ensure that a workers compensation claim is made (go to the ToolKit for more information, or contact your union).
An injection (immunoglobulin or gammaglobulin) is usually offered to all household and intimate contacts of cases of hepatitis A. Immunoglobulin may prevent hepatitis A, or at least cause symptoms to be milder, but must be given within ten days of contact with an infectious person to be effective. This injection is not the same as the vaccine and offers short term protection against the disease for contacts of cases. If workers at your worksite have not been immunised, ensure that all those who may have be at risk of infection due to their contact with the infected worker receive this injection.
Can the infected worker continue to work?
Food handlers with hepatitis A must not work for at least one week after they become jaundiced. To avoid transmission of Hepatitis A in the workplace, it is advisable that people, especially child care workers and health care workers remain away from work for one week after the onset of jaundice.
Under the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations, children with hepatitis A must not attend child care, kindergartens or school for at least one week after they become jaundiced.
There are no specific OHS regulations on hepatitis.
However, employers have a duty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) to provide and maintain for employees, as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing a safe system of work, information, training, supervision, and where appropriate personal protective equipment. The employer also has the duty to monitor conditions at the workplace and to monitor the health and safety of employees.
Hepatitis A is a notifiable disease under the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations 2001 - medical practitioners and others must notify the health authorities.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is the name given to several different illnesses which all cause the same problem: an inflamed (swollen or painful) liver. The liver is a vital part of the body. If it does not function properly, it can cause serious illness and can lead to death.
Hepatitis can be caused by a viral infection, which is how some workers may put at risk. It can also be caused by drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
There are several types of hepatitis including A, B, C, and E. All these viruses cause similar problems but are spread in different ways. It is important to know this, as the ways to prevent people catching the disease are different too.
(This page is only about hepatitis A. There are other pages on Hepatitis on this site.)
Not all people with hepatitis A get very ill; some don't get sick at all. Children are more likely than adults to show no symptoms even if they are infected. In more severe cases, hepatitis A can cause:
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pain in the liver (under the right rib cage).
- Jaundice (when the urine becomes darker than normal and the eyes and skin go yellow.
Symptoms may last for several weeks but full recovery is usual.
After catching the virus it usually takes about four weeks to become ill, but it can take any time from 15 to 50 days. People with hepatitis A can pass it on to others from two weeks before they show symptoms to one week after they become jaundiced.
Hepatitis A may be diagnosed by a simple blood test and although there is no specific treatment for it, a doctor can help prevent others from catching the infection.
Hepatitis A occurs when the hepatitis A virus is taken in by mouth. The virus then multiplies in the liver and is passed in the faeces. Therefore, workers who come into contact with contaminated faeces may become infected. This includes:
- Child care workers, particularly where the children are too young to have been toilet trained
- Health care workers, particularly those in paediatric and infectious diseases wards, emergency rooms and intensive care units
- Emergency service workers - Ambulance, fire brigade and police
- People who work with the intellectually disabled
- Prison Officers
- Sewerage and water workers
An infected person's hands can become contaminated after using the toilet and the virus then spreads by direct contact, or by food, beverages and other objects that were handled by the infected person, such as cups and spoons, bathroom facilities. Workers who may be infected in this way include:
- Child care workers
- Health care workers
- Community workers
- Food handlers
Hepatitis A may also be spread sexually if there is contact with the anal area of anyone who is infectious. Consequently, sex industry workers may be at risk of contracting hepatitis A.
For Further Information:
- The Victorian Government has produced a number of guidance documents on hepatitis. These are all available on the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology & Surveillance website
- Particularly useful are:
- Hepatitis Victoria - this organisation offers a range of education, training, personal health management and support services to increase understanding about viral hepatitis, and the various means of prevention, management and treatment.
- The Australian government Department of Health Immunisation handbook, in particular Vaccination for people at occupational risk.
- The National Code of Practice for the Control of Work-related Exposure to Hepatitis and HIV (blood-borne) Viruses [NOHSC: 2010 (2003) 2nd Edition], was declared in December 2003, and is available to download from the Safe Work Australia. The code provides practical guidance for the management of exposure to HBV, HCV and HIV in the workplace. The code is designed to be applicable to all workplaces. The code has been archived, but is still a source of information.
- From Safe Work Australia, National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance: Exposure to biological hazards and the provision of controls against biological hazards in Australian workplaces
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Last amended May 2020