4-14 Infection prevention and exposure control practices
Firefighters, in the course of their work, may be exposed to blood, bodily fluids, secretions, excretions, mucous membranes, non-intact skin, sharps, medical waste or soiled items.
Firefighters are at risk of contracting communicable diseases from infectious persons. It is sometimes difficult to identify infectious persons as they may not display symptoms.
Actions for employers
- assess the risk of occupational exposure to communicable diseases in the workplace
- apply a standard of routine practices to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission at the scene and upon return to the station
- train workers on routine practices so that the worker is able to perform a “point of care” risk assessment and evaluate the general risk of each encounter with persons and determine the best course of action
- provide training and education on selection, use and limitations of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- provide education on infectious diseases and methods of spread/exposure
- develop protocols which limit exposure
- ensure adequate stock of PPE and develop an inventory control program to ensure stock is not out-of-date
- consult local public health for most recent direction on protection, vaccinations, contact management, post exposure management and designated officer role
Routine practices include an ongoing or “point of care” risk assessment, hand hygiene, barrier equipment, environmental controls and education. A “point of care” risk assessment is used to determine the potential for exposure to blood and bodily fluids or contaminated equipment.
Firefighters should use routine practices for infection prevention and exposure control with persons during care at all times, including in station operations. This includes:
- proper hand washing
- cleaning and disinfection practices
- appropriate use of PPE
When the ongoing or “point of care” risk assessment indicates a potential for transmission, firefighters should use appropriate PPE. When used properly, PPE provides a barrier to prevent transmission from person to worker and worker to person. Barrier equipment includes:
- hand protection
- eye protection
- respiratory protection
- skin protection
Employers should consult with infection control experts, to determine the appropriate PPE for use in each of the categories listed above. Experts may include:
- local, provincial and federal health officials
- the Medical Officer of Health
- emergency medical services
- health and safety associations
Applicable regulations and acts
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- clause 25(2)(a) for providing information and instruction to a worker
- clause 25(2)(d) for making workers aware of hazards
- clause 25(2)(h) for taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers
- Regulation 833 - Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents for respiratory protection program requirements
For information on immunizations to reduce your risk of contracting communicable diseases, read National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) Canadian Immunization Guide (Public Health Agency of Canada).
For information about routine practices to protect workers in pre-hospital settings, read Routine Practices and Additional Precautions from the Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee.
Read an overview of a Designated Officer Program.
Use this self-assessment tool for a Designated Officer Program Assessment.
Read firefighter guidance notes: