After outbreaks reported in San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles counties, Cal/OSHA is encouraging employers whose workers are at risk of exposure to the hepatitis A virus to review preventive measures posted online.
Hepatitis A is highly contagious, and can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months resulting in death. The virus is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter—even in microscopic amounts—after contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person. In outbreak locations, workers who have direct contact with persons living in unsanitary conditions, particularly individuals who are homeless or use illicit drugs, have an increased risk of hepatitis A exposure. Workers in some settings are at increased risk, including:
- Health care and laboratory workers
- Public safety and emergency medical services workers
- Sanitation and janitorial workers
- Homeless services and substance use treatment facilities
Infection Control Measures
Cal/OSHA recommends that employers with at-risk employees prevent exposures by:
- Maintaining a clean and sanitary workplace. Areas contaminated by decaying waste such as fecal matter must be cleaned and sanitized, and employees should immediately report any unsanitary conditions in the workplace.
- Cleaning the toilet facilities. Cal/OSHA requires employers to keep workplace restrooms clean and sanitary. Additional cleaning may be needed if high-risk individuals outside of the workplace (for example, homeless persons or persons using illicit drugs) have used or have had access to workplace restrooms. The San Diego County Department of Environmental Health offers downloadable disinfection guidelines.
- Providing handwashing facilities. Employers must provide handwashing facilities. Employees should wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet or touching any object that may have been contaminated with fecal matter, and before eating, drinking, or smoking.
- Providing appropriate personal protective equipment. Employers must provide gloves and other necessary personal protective equipment to employees who clean up or otherwise come into contact with hazardous materials such as fecal matter. Employees should wash their hands after disposing of used gloves.
- Providing training. Employers must provide training to employees when a new hazard is presented in the workplace. For example, when a hepatitis A outbreak occurs that could affect employees, the employer must provide information and training to the employees on how hepatitis A is transmitted and how to prevent infection.
- Offering hepatitis A vaccinations. Employees in outbreak locations who come into close contact with homeless persons or persons using illicit drugs, or who handle materials or objects potentially contaminated with hepatitis A virus, are at increased risk of infection.