Prevention is the best method to avoid diseases due to biological factors. A risk assessment is important in prevention planning. If control of the biological factor cannot be achieved at the source, an attempt should be made to reduce the exposure by, for instance, ventilation, or interrupting the path of exposure between the biological factor and the worker, for instance by using personal protective equipment.
Also, rules and regulations are often of great importance for implementing preventive actions. An example of this is a political resolution to end tuberculosis, adopted by the United Nation General Assembly 26th September 2018 (see the UN logo in the photo above). Tuberculosis is a problem for several occupational Groups; miners as well as health personnel, and the resolution will be of importance for many workers. You can read more about this process here: UN General Assembly high-level meeting on ending TB
In the following text, we will give other examples of preventive actions for work-related infectious diseases. During the fourth week of this course you will learn about prevention of respiratory diseases that can be caused by biological factors.
During a normal working day, the hands will be contaminated with several bacteria and other infectious agents from contact with other humans, infected surfaces, foods or animals. Hand hygiene is the most effective intervention to reduce transmission of infections and resistant germs, and hence of utmost importance in the prevention of infectious diseases. This is especially true in health care services due to clinical encounters with patients who have different kinds of infections, but it is also true in other settings where workers are exposed to infectious agents.
Hand wash is an easy and effective method to prevent infections. © G. Tjalvin
The hands should always be washed:
- After being on the toilet
- After contact with animals or waste
- Before preparing food and after
- Before eating food
- Before and after treating wounds
- Before and after contact with sick or persons
- After staying in large public areas like airports, train and bus stations, playgrounds and restaurants.
- After work.
If you like, you can watch this video about hand hygiene, made by WHO.
This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.
Personal protective equipment
In some cases, workers have to use personal protective equipment to be protected from contagious agents. Examples of personal protective equipment include gloves, surgical masks, respirators, goggles and specialized working clothes.
Gloves protect the hands from infectious agents. © University of Bergen/Frode Ims
Infectious agents may be spread when skin of the hands comes into contact with the skin or mucous membrane, such as the nose, mouth, throat and genitals, of an infected person. Gloves must be always be used in these situations. Gloves come in different qualities, and the selection of glove type and material must be based on the type of exposure and nature of the hazard.
Surgeons using gloves, surgical mask and eye protection to protect themselves from contagious agents during surgery. © Colourbox
If there is a risk of spray of droplets containing infectious agents, health personnel should use a surgical mask and eye protection.
To be efficient the mask must be worn correctly. This link at the WHO pages gives you more information on this issue.
Surgical masks do not, however, efficiently protect against airborne contaminations such as tuberculosis. If there is risk of airborne contamination a respirator should be used instead. For most airborne particles a respirator with a P3 filter will protect adequately, but in some cases a closed system with fresh air must be used instead. Please keep in mind that if the worker has a beard, the effect of the respirator mask will be severely reduced.
The white uniforms are protecting the workers. © G. Tjalvin
Proper working clothes should be worn to protect the worker’s skin and private garments. Working clothes, or uniforms, are also used to avoid the worker bringing contamination to other places. The uniform should not be worn outside the workplace, and should be stored separately from private clothes. It is important that the uniforms are cleaned regularly. In the case of risk of exposure to a highly deadly virus, such as the Ebola virus, specialized protective equipment, such as a hazmat suit, is needed. A hazmat suit (hazardous materials suit) consists of an impermeable whole-body garment. Belonging to this suit is a hood with powered air purifying respirators. This suit be over pressurised to prevent contamination even if the suit is damaged.
Development of safe work practices for handling needles and other sharp devices is important to avoid needle stick injuries. © University of Bergen/Frode Ims
Preventing needle sticks
Used needles are contaminated by the patient’s blood. In case the patient has a blood-born infection, such as hepatitis B or C, or HIV infection, this can spread to health care personnel by a needle stick injury.
Under these circumstances, the following post-exposure measures are recommended:
Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water
Wash the area with alcohol based cleaning agent (subject of debate)
In case of known or suspected blood borne disease specific measures are needed:
• Take a blood sample from the patient with the suspected infectious disease
• Take a blood sample of the person with the accident as soon as possible, follow this with a new blood sample after 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months.
Report the accident to the employer through the given routines.
Used needles and other contaminated, sharp objects should be discarded safely in a box like this. © G. Tjalvin
© University of Bergen/Authors: G. Tjalvin, B.E. Moen.