Workplaces urged to be vigilant of melioidosis

NT WorkSafe recently urged workers to be vigilant of melioidosis and ensure their workers are protected from the risks of the disease following a case in which a landscaping worker was admitted to hospital with the disease.

The worker, who was employed by a landscaping company in Darwin, was reported to have been diagnosed with melioidosis after attending hospital due to persistent back pain. 

Initial enquiries indicate the worker was completing gardening work days prior to being diagnosed. However, the exact location where the worker may have contracted the disease cannot be confirmed due to the delay in symptoms.

The worker commenced appropriate medical treatment, which included ongoing intravenous antibiotics.

Melioidosis is a serious disease caused by bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei, commonly found in tropical soils and water. 

In the Northern Territory, cases of melioidosis usually occur during the wet season (October to April), when heavy rainfall can bring the bacteria up into surface water and soil. 

The bacteria can cause infection when they enter a person’s body through skin cuts and sores or inhaling dust or droplets.

Workers exposed to an environment where the bacteria may be present are at risk of contracting melioidosis, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

NT WorkSafe strongly urged all workplaces with workers working outdoors, especially during the wet season, to ensure the following measures are in place and effective:

  • Undertake Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Control (HIRAC) before starting any job in a work environment that can potentially be contaminated by bacteria causing melioidosis. 
  • Consider available control measures and implement them to eliminate or minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. These may include:
    • Provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure they wear it when carrying out work, which may expose them to soil-borne diseases such as melioidosis. This includes glasses, ear protection, respirators, gloves and appropriate footwear.
    • Provide workers with adequate washing facilities and ensure they adopt personal hygiene practices such as washing their hands thoroughly before and after eating, drinking, smoking and performing their job.
    • Ensure workers check their skin before carrying out work to identify any cuts, abrasions or wounds. Ensure they adequately cover these with waterproof dressings and wear the appropriate PPE to prevent the melioidosis bacteria from entering the body.
    • Alternatively, deploy workers with open cuts and sores in alternative tasks, including workers who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and kidney and lung disease, which increase their risk of contracting melioidosis.
  • Ensure workers have appropriate information, training and/or instruction on the potential risks and symptoms of melioidosis, the use of PPE, hand washing practices and safe work procedures.
  • Follow the Northern Territory’s Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination Code of Practice, and consult your workers and their health and safety representatives and seek feedback on the effectiveness of the control measures implemented at the next toolbox talk or team meeting.