Employers are not legally obliged to immunise first aiders and the Health & Safety Executive’s guidance notes that it is not normally necessary for first aiders in the workplace to be immunised, “unless the risk assessment indicates it is appropriate”. Bear in mind that the risk of being infected with blood-borne viruses (BBV) such as hepatitis B and HIV through administering first-aid treatment is small.
As an employer, the risks of exposure to BBV must be assessed under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Where employers do have an obligation is to prevent or reduce, so far as is reasonably practicable, exposure to biological agents.
In the hierarchy of control measures against viruses, immunisation as protection is the last line of defence and other controls should be available because:
- immunisation can be partial, with some subjects not receiving adequate protection
- there is often a risk of side effects and there may be medical contraindications against immunisation
- not all infections can be protected against by immunisation.
The following precautions are recommended by the HSE to reduce the risk of infection to first-aid trained staff:
- cover any cuts or grazes they have with a waterproof dressing
- wear suitable disposable gloves when dealing with blood or any other body fluids
- use suitable eye protection and a disposable plastic apron where splashing is possible
- use devices such as face shields if giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
- maintain good hygiene after each procedure.
It may be advisable, if considering vaccination as a control measure, to seek appropriate medical advice, eg from your occupational provider when completing the risk assessment in order to determine the balance of possible side effects of immunisation against the risks of not being immunised.
If the risk assessment shows that there is a risk of exposure to biological agents, and effective vaccines exist, then provision should be made to determine whether the first-aid staff member is already immunised, and immunisation should be offered to those not already immunised.
The pros and cons of immunisation/non-immunisation should be explained when offering immunisation to the worker at risk.