Sep 22, 2004
We recently hired someone who is suspected of having AIDS.Another employee of ours used to work with him at another company.We install flooring products which the guys are constantly using wet saws, wire mesh, etc. All employees are concerned that they may be at risk to catching AIDS since the new employee has cut himself on several occassions. Our work environment consists of alot of tools, and cuts are common with usage of them. Can I, as an employer, ask the employee to have an AIDS test? If he is positive, can we release him without any recourse? How can AIDS exactly be contracted? Can it be contracted if the employee cuts himself using the wet saw and his blood drips into the water, the next employee uses the wet saw and his hands touch the water, can it be contracted? There are alot of concerns and questions. Hopefully you can help us.
Response from Ms. Breuer
Breathe. THis is a smaller problem than you think. Here is what HIV requires for transmission: one person's infectious blood must have immediate, intimate contact with another person's bloodstream or mucous membranes. That means unprotected sex, needle-sharing, blood splash to the eye or blood transfusion. Of those, I hope three of four are off the table in your workplace. The blood splash to the eye is a rare but possible event, and I'll bet you require safety glasses anyway. If not, that's the only step I'd recommend to protect others from HIV.
No, his having HIV is NOT grounds for dismissal, and no, you cannot require him to take an HIV test. You could face a huge payment if you let him go because of HIV--it's illegal in all 50 states. He does not pose a threat to anyone else! That's why it's illegal.
Instead, please educate your staff about all bloodborne infections, because hepatitis B and C are easier to transmit and could pose a risk in your work if folks don't know how to respond to blood. Hep B can survive for up to 2 weeks in blood on a tool handle, for example, and could lead to infection if it came into contact with moisture and an open cut. This would be a good time to polish everyone's skills concerning blood on tools or work surfaces.
Blood in water is not considered a risk for HIV infection. It fails the "immediate/intimate contact" test, and the water dilutes the blood.
If I were you, I'd schedule some bloodborne pathogens education right away, and I'd focus on hep B, not on HIV, and certainly not on the one employee who has your current attention.
If you would like to let me know what part of the country you're in, I could send you some recommendations for reliable educators on bloodborne pathogens. Or you could ask your local public health dept. They might be willing to come in at no charge.
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