Journalist, SHP Online

November 21, 2016

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Why construction workers need to be wary of Weil’s disease

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Weil’s disease, caused by Leptospira bacteria, and spread by rodents, is debilitating or even fatal in 10% of cases. Darren Williamson, Product & Procurement Manager for Arco, explains the dangers of the bacteria within construction and how workers can combat the infection using specially formulated hand wipes and solutions.

Those who come into contact with sewers, waterways and flood zones or derelict areas can find themselves at risk of contracting Leptospirosis, which can develop into the more serious form of the infection: Weil’s disease. Rodents carry the bacterium and can spread it to humans who come into contact with these contaminated settings[1]. Construction workers are at a high risk of infection, particularly if they are located within these potentially contaminated environments.

What is the threat for the construction industry?

Despite Leptospirosis not being very common in the UK[2], the risks are severe and something that workers need to be aware of. The bacteria can develop into Weil’s disease and poses serious long-term and life threatening health risks. If left untreated, the infection could lead to internal bleeding, organ failure and mental health problems[3]. Within the construction industry, complacency and the lack of awareness can be detrimental for workers – we urge that there needs to better education for workers to understand symptoms they need to look out for.

At the start of a new construction project, in particular those first on site and undertaking groundworks need to beware that infection can lurk in surrounding rundown areas. Ultimately, everyone working on a construction site is at risk.

Early symptoms of Leptospirosis resemble a cold or the flu; for instance, suffering with headaches or a fever. Sensitivity to light, chills, muscle pain, fatigue and vomiting are also common features of the infection. Due to the likeness, Leptospirosis could be easily dismissed as something less threatening. If construction workers show signs of the above symptoms having been in contact with canal, river water, rats or landfill areas, it is extremely important for them to visit their doctor immediately and state that they suspect Leptospirosis.

How can employers ensure protection for workers?

Leptospirosis bacteria can enter the body through the eyes, nose and through cuts and grazes in the skin. Whilst at work, workers ought to avoid touching their face and follow good person hygiene practice. Good hygiene can sometimes go amiss, especially as water supply can be sparse on site. Employers ought to allocate protective clothing and specialised hand wipes in order for workers to conveniently disinfect their hands and keep protected.

Employers need to report any cases of Leptospirosis contracted at work to the HSE in accordance with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Self-employed workers, who contract the disease, must also report the incident themselves to RIDDOR.

Five ways to stay safe onsite:  

– Education.

Knowledge is power. Understanding the risks and causes of Leptospirosis is crucial so that construction workers can protect themselves.

– Hand wipes.

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Providing specially formulated hand wipes are a convenient way for employees to physically remove dirt and disinfect their hands to kill dangerous bacteria, especially when working a distance from washing facilities and for mobile workers.

– Keep your hands away from your face.

Avoid contact with your face, eyes and mouth. Always ensure you wipe and disinfect your hands before eating, drinking, using their phone or smoking a cigarette.

– Plaster up cuts and grazes.

Cover cuts and sores with a waterproof dressing to avoid infection.

– Don’t be shy, talk to your GP.

If you develop flu-like symptoms after working in potentially contaminated areas, visit your doctor at the earliest opportunity and state that you have been working in an environment where there may be exposure to Leptospirosis. Early diagnosis is vital in preventing the infection from progressing into Weil’s disease.

Arco, the UK’s leading safety company, offers a range of specialised hand wipes, designed to protect employees from Weil’s disease. Arco Safe Hands Wipes are packaged in a lightweight, patented Quick Release Dispenser (QRD) bag that dispenses wipes effectively to improve hand hygiene, but also reduces waste and cares for the environment.

Visit the Arco website for further information on the Safe Hands wipes range and how to protect against the bacteria www.arco.co.uk/safehands.

References:

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/healthrisks/hazardous-substances/harmful-micro-organisms/leptospirosis-weils-disease.htm

[2] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/leptospirosis

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Leptospirosis/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp

Every site induction in construction, utilities, railways, etc, includes a slide about Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) yet in my experience it is very rare. Indeed, I have extracted the following from the NHS Choices website – ‘Leptospirosis is rare in the UK, with less than 40 cases reported in England and Wales every year. Many cases originate overseas and the condition is rarely fatal.’ So you probably have more chance of being run over by a bus whilst crossing Oxford Street.

Nick Bell
Nick Bell

I wonder if the rarity is actually an issue of under/misdiagnosis. As a youth I spent my summers doing voluntary work and one year was with the Police taking young people who had ‘encounters’ with the law on activities to divert them from crime. We went canoeing in a fairly grubby lake, I got a dunking and within a few days I was laid up (despite being a reasonably fit young man). I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed. The pain in my limbs was awful…I was completely seized up, I had a temperature, shivering, shaking etc.… Read more »

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