Diseases and health - Frequently asked questions

This page contains frequently asked questions on diseases and health.

How can I prevent getting infectious diseases at work?

Conscientious use of standard precautions will minimise the risk of workers acquiring infections and transferring infections between persons. Some infections may pose an increased risk for pregnant workers and immunosuppressed individuals, and additional measures may be needed for some diseases requiring isolation. Standard precautions include:

  • hand washing after any contamination of hands;  
  • care of intact normal skin;  
  • protection of damaged skin by covering with a waterproof dressing or by gloves;  
  • proper handling and disposal of sharps;  
  • good hygiene practices to prevent most infections;  
  • the use of personal protective equipment; and  
  • containment of all blood and body fluids, ie confining spills, splashes and contamination of the environment and workers to the smallest amount possible.  

What can be done to prepare for the possibility of a viral outbreak such as novel Coronavirus?

Under the current legislation, employers are required to provide and maintain, as far as is practicable, a working environment in which their workers are not exposed to health risks. This includes situations where employees and contractors may be at risk of contracting viruses such as the novel Coronavirus. 

Employers need to keep up to date with the latest health warnings from the Australian government to ensure that any action taken is measured and appropriate.

If there is concern about the risk of employees being exposed to viruses of this nature while at work, a risk assessment should be carried out with reference to the latest information available at the links below. Employers should develop prevention and control strategies appropriate to the workplace, in consultation with their employees and ensure that all employees are aware of and follow these strategies.

These strategies may include

  • Providing clear advice about quarantine periods following at-risk travel or contact with at-risk or unwell people, in accordance with advice from the Department of Health
  • Fitness for work policies and procedures, including instructions on actions employees should take if they have symptoms consistent with a virus, such as fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath. 
  • Dealing with contingencies such as staff shortages
  • Minimising or eliminating the need for work travel, particularly to known risk areas – refer to government advice at Smart Traveller
  • Reminding staff about the need to ensure good personal hygiene and encourage regular hand washing
  • Regular communications with staff should the situation or organisational policies or procedures change

Further information

Should I inform my employer if I have an infectious disease?

Under OHS legislation, employees have an obligation to cooperate with their employer to help the employer comply with occupational health and safety obligations, and to ensure the health and safety of others in the workplace who may be affected by the employee’s acts or omissions. Workers may be required to notify their employer of incidents where they may expose (or have potentially exposed) a fellow worker or member of the public to certain diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis B or C. Notification of such incidents is subject to privacy and discrimination legislation. 

A list of diseases that employers are required to notify to the WorkSafe Commissioner is provided in the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996.

If you have a short-term infectious illness, speak with your doctor about the type of work you do, and whether you need to stay home until recovered to avoid infecting others. 

Should employers provide vaccination for hepatitis B?

Where there is a high risk of contracting hepatitis B at work, a vaccination protocol should be included in a policy for prevention and control of infectious disease for the workplace and where needed, vaccination should be available free of charge. Employees should always be given comprehensive information regarding hepatitis B and vaccination and advised to discuss vaccinations with a medical practitioner. 

What should I do if I find used syringes at my workplace?

The Department of Health provides guidelines on what to do if used syringes are found.  

Notify your employer if you find used syringes at your workplace.  Your employer should provide information to workers and have a policy that outlines the procedure to be followed. 

Can I get HIV by casual contact in the workplace?

No, HIV cannot be transmitted from contact with: 

  • toilets or bathrooms; 
  • food; 
  • cutlery or crockery; or  
  • air - unlike the viruses that cause colds, HIV cannot be spread through the air.

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