I run a funeral home and one of our employees accidentally jabbed himself while embalming, on a body that turned out to be HIV positive. What are the legal implications and how can I stop this happening again?
It is very important that you assist your employee at an early stage. Consider providing counselling as the employee may be suffering from anxiety as a result of the incident.
You must contact your insurers and notify them of a potential employer’s liability claim against you. They will put in hand any legal defence you may have if your employee does decide to bring a claim against you. Whether or not you have a sustainable defence will depend on what practices and procedures you had in place at the time of the accident – highlighting the need for thorough risk assessment.
Guidance for prevention of needlestick injuries can be obtained from the National Health Service. There are no recognised national standards for embalming. It is, therefore, very important that you have practices and procedures in place within your own organisation to protect your employees from what can be described as a rare accident, but one that has potentially fatal consequences.
You will then need to tighten up your procedures and review the information that is given to you from the mortuary/hospital. As a starting point, consider using a form – whose contents are agreed between yourselves and the mortuary – to accompany the body bag. The form should accompany the body and list the reasons for the use of the body bag and whether or not body preparation may be carried out. It should provide information on infection transmission routes to explain the need for precautions to be taken. This preserves patient confidentiality while controlling risk.
In future, training of all funeral staff should be carried out in conjunction with the local consultant in Communicable Disease Control and the hospital infection control officer.
Sarah Temperley, Dedicated Disease Unit, Weightmans
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