Legislation gives first responders peace of mind

New legislation will give emergency workers the right to test patients for serious communicable diseases.

  • May. 17, 2012 8:00 a.m.

New legislation will give emergency workers the right to test patients for serious communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.

The Ministry of Labour introduced the legislation on April 30, meaning emergency workers will be able to access information about potential disease exposure.

The nature of the work done by emergency personnel means they are at a higher risk of coming into contact with other peoples’ bodily substances, putting them in a situation where they can be exposed to serious diseases.

The Emergency Intervention Disclosure Act will enable emergency workers to get a court order to require individuals to give a bodily fluid sample, if one is not given voluntarily.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, said he spent a couple of days last summer with his colleague, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA, Norm Letnick, meeting with local paramedics and fire fighters to gauge their support and to determine the need.

“It has been a privilege to have worked with my local and provincial firefighters and paramedics over the past three years on this bill,” said Letnick. “This bill improves the balance between the right to privacy of individuals and the right to know among those who may be impacted by the transfer of bodily fluids.”

The bill also protects privacy by assuring information is shared in confidence only, and sets penalties for non-compliance of testing orders and privacy provisions. Bronwyn Barter, president, Ambulance Paramedics of BC, said, “Our paramedics and partners in police and fire are exposed to needle-stick injuries or blood splashes routinely, and not being able to find out in a timely manner whether or not you’ve been exposed to a blood-borne illness can cause a great deal of stress.

“We have the right to know.”

Jason Macnaughton, Communications Manager at the Ministry of Labour, said that currently most people agree to give a blood sample when asked, but some may refuse.

“Here’s an example of when this legislation might apply,” he said. “A paramedic attends a car crash and cuts his arm on the wreckage while assisting injured passengers. During this time, the blood of an injured passenger comes in contact with the paramedic’s open wound.

“If the individual refuses to give a blood sample for testing, the paramedic could use this legislation to obtain one.”

Similar legislation exists in six other provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Regulations will be developed to test for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Between 1987 and 2011, WorkSafeBC accepted 227 claims for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV exposures. Of those claims, 47 were from first responders.