Blood-borne viruses

What you need to know about blood borne viruses in the workplace

Reducing the risk of blood-borne virus exposure

Blood-borne viruses (BBVs) are biological hazards. The risks of infection to employees, or others affected by your work, must be assessed.

Risk assessment is key to the management of BBVs. In industries such as refurbishment, BBVs can be overlooked in a risk assessment. It is important that background history on building use and environment is understood and considered during the assessment.

Where a risk of exposure has been identified, you can take simple measures to prevent or control exposure such as:

  • practising good personal hygiene and paying particular attention to hygienic hand-washing
  • adopting work procedures that avoid the use of sharps
  • using sharps equipment with built-in safety devices
  • providing and replacing safe disposal equipment for sharps
  • promptly decontaminating infected areas, i.e. cleaning up blood or fluid spills
  • practising clear procedures for spills clean-up
  • consulting, and communicating with staff and their representatives
  • training staff about the risks, controls and prevention of infection
  • implementing an Infection Control Policy that sets clear guidelines for all

The controls will involve appropriate and adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). However, the use of PPE should not be your only protective measure, and is often seen as the last resort.

In some situations, immunisation can be a control against hepatitis B (HBV) but this must be determined by your risk assessment and is only a supplement to reinforce other control measures.

First Aiders

The risk of being infected with a BBV while carrying out first aid duties is generally low and there have been no recorded cases of HIV or HBV being passed on during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

First aiders should have suitable controls in place to protect them and therefore there is no need to withhold treatment for fear of being infected with a BBV.

If there is a known risk in the workplace, your risk assessment will identify the need for training on preventing BBV transmission.

It is not normally necessary for first aiders in the workplace to be immunised against HBV.

You should take the following risk reduction measures in the workplace:

  • cover any cuts or grazes on your skin with a waterproof dressing.
  • wear suitable disposable gloves when dealing with blood or body fluids.
  • use suitable eye protection and a disposable plastic apron where splashing is possible.
  • provide face shields for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but ensure appropriate staff are trained to use them.
  • wash your hands after each procedure

What should I do if I get exposed to BBVs?

If you are injured or contaminated with blood or other body fluids, or suffer from an injury from a sharp which may be contaminated, then:

  • encourage the wound to gently bleed, ideally holding it under running water
  • wash the wound using running water and plenty of soap
  • dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof plaster or dressing
  • don't scrub the wound whilst you are washing it
  • don't suck the wound
  • seek urgent medical advice (for example your Occupational Health Service) as effective prophylaxis (medicines to help fight infection) are available
  • when internal processes are not available, go to an accident and emergency department
  • report the injury to your employer

Contact information

Message us or call our advice line on 0800 019 2211 if you need further information about BBVs.