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How can we avoid Hepatitis C discrimination?

Q: Our workplace has a designated first aid officer who has Hepatitis C. The employee works at a location where first aid may at times need to be administered to members of the public. Due to their Hepatitis C, I would like to remove the person from this role. However, I am also worried that the worker will see this as form of discrimination.

A: Hepatitis C is a recognised disability in your jurisdiction under Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT). The Act makes it unlawful to treat someone differently based on their disability, unless one of the exceptions under the legislation can be relied on.

There is an exception under the Act that provides that discrimination under the Act is not unlawful if the “discrimination is necessary and reasonable to protect public health”. To determine what is necessary and reasonable in the current circumstances we have reviewed the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare (2010).

The guideline sets out that healthcare workers (including first aid officers) with a blood borne virus, such as Hepatitis C, should not perform exposure prone procedures (EPPs). An EPP is defined as “invasive procedures where there is potential for direct contact between the skin, usually finger or thumb of the healthcare worker, and sharp surgical instruments, needles, or sharp tissues (e.g. fractured bones), spicules of bone or teeth in body cavities or in poorly visualised or confined body sites, including the mouth of the patient.”

In relation to first aid workers, the guideline states, “The important issue is whether or not an infected healthcare worker undertakes EPPs.”

Therefore, an assessment must be made as to whether or not the first aid officer at your worksite would be required to perform EPPs.

Please note: The answer is correct at the time of publishing. Be aware that laws may change over time. Refer to Discrimination for current advice.

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